Theater review: 'Bright Ideas' at International City Theatre
In this sad era of “helicopter parents,” who hover over their young, micromanaging every breath, the question arises: When, exactly, did the task of parenting devolve into fetish? That’s the issue Eric Coble addresses in his acid-etched comedy, “Bright Ideas,” now at International City Theatre.
Don’t be misled by the blue-skies backdrop or the brightly lighted checkerboard floor of Stephen Gifford’s set and Jared A. Sayeg’s lighting designs. The external cheeriness is ironic, considering the dirty work at these particular crossroads.
Josh Bradley (Brian Stanton) and his wife Genevra (Amie Farrell) are aspiring yuppies from deprived backgrounds who are frantic to get their 3-year-old toddler, Mack, into Bright Ideas, an elite pre-school that, in due time, sends an incredible 98% of its students on to the Ivy League. The desperate duo are first on the waiting list but will do anything to fail-proof their chances – including a spot of murder.
Speaking of spots, poisoned pesto is as darned hard to wash off as blood in this cheeky sendup of “Macbeth,” which comes complete with a murderous husband and rabidly ambitious wife whose pernicious plot grows more insanely grandiose at every turn. The chaos commences when the couple invites Genevra’s colleague, Denise (Meghan Maureen McDonough), over for dinner. Denise’s little boy is a shoo-in at Bright Ideas – as well he should be, considering that his wealthy grandparents contributed the bulk of the cash for the school’s state-of-the-art swimming facility.
With Denise safely dispatched, the couple ascends to the Bright Ideas kingdom, where the increasingly wacky Genevra soon holds terrifying sway. Meanwhile, Josh takes refuge in the bottle, studiously ignoring the fact that Genevra is spending her afternoon nap times with Ross (Louis Lotorto), an obnoxiously doting preschool dad whose own obnoxiously doting wife, Lynzie (Heather Corwin) is massively pregnant. Everything comes to a head at Mack’s 4th birthday party, which the fast-unraveling Genevra hosts at the point of a loaded gun.
While amusing, the somewhat haphazard “Macbeth” references seem suspiciously extraneous to the action, and there’s a certain thematic obviousness to Coble’s play, which takes glancing potshots at easy targets. Yet shallowness is, in a sense, the point. Coble deliberately overblows and heightens his comical situations, and a clever cast makes the most of their stereotypes in caryn desai’s snappy staging. The actors, with the exception of Farrell and Stanton, play multiple roles with breathless exaggeration.
Lotorto’s Ross is so sunny and shallow you just may want to slap him. McDonough is a stitch as the spectacularly entitled Denise, and it’s a treat to watch the comical Corwin sail around the stage with her ever-augmenting belly preceding her. Stanton’s initially murderous Josh deflates into the woebegone dismay of a man who has detoured down a very dark path. Conversely, Genevra’s lethal perkiness intensifies with each sinister deed, and Farrell pushes the outermost limits of her delightfully over-the-top character.
-- F. Kathleen Foley
“Bright Ideas,” International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 East Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 20. $32-$42. (562) 436-4610. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
Photo, clockwise from rear left: Louis Lotorto, Brian Stanton, Amie Farrell and Heather Corwin. Photo credit: Shashin Desai.