No Child Left Behind

Few things are more obnoxious than the parents of small children: the celebrating of every successful bowel movement, the self-centered notion that their child truly is special. There are also few things more dangerous—just ask the family of the guy beaten to death by a fellow dad during a youth hockey game, the mother who tried to pay someone to kill her daughter's cheerleading rival, or any of the whack jobs who scream at teachers, dance coaches and doctors for not recognizing their child as a pint-sized deity.

Eric Coble's BrightIdeastakes overzealous parenting to a most extreme—and extremely funny—level. Using Shakespeare's Macbethas a template for his tale of raw ambition gone horribly awry, Coble's cynical commentary is Parenthoodmeets DirtyHarry,with ample doses of MarthaStewartLiving.

Josh (Bo Foxworth) and Genevra (Pat Caldwell) are desperately worried their three-year-old son, Mac (thankfully, no kids are actually in this play; more thankfully, no adults play children), will wind up in a crappy preschool. They refuse to accept anything but the best, because perfect parents send their perfect children to the perfect preschool.

In their world, that means Bright Ideas Advanced Learning Academy, but Josh and Gen lack the necessary money. So Mac gets stuck on a waiting list while Denise, Gen's snobby, shallow colleague, buys the school a new aquatics center and gets her kid right in.

And this apparently normal, if somewhat neurotic, couple faces an age-old dilemma: Just how far would you go for your child?

Coble's play—skillfully directed, as always, by Andrew Barnicle—is funny and biting, its Nicky Silver-like cruelty tempered by sheer goofiness, such as the hip-hop-spewing guy in a human-sized beaver suit entertaining a child's birthday party. And while the ensemble shines throughout, it's Caldwell's juicily horrifying arc from a slightly addled, twitchy Meg Ryan to a headhunting, vicious Holly Hunter that drives the play.

Her transformation is complete when she walks into her son's fourth birthday party dressed in a black skirt and knee-high boots with a message for the unseen parents and kids, a message delivered to the audience as well: love, respect and adore my kid, you motherfuckers—or else.She's clearly lost it, but she's doing this for her kid, and you can't help but wonder how many parents are secretly cheering some part of this crazy bitch's rant. That's what makes this play so accessible—and ominous.

Bright Ideas at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-ARTS. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 N 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 N 7 p.m. Through March 20. $45-$54; student discounts available.

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