Parenting lessons from the Bard, with hilarious and tragic results

Taking parenting lessons from Shakespeare is apparently not a very smart move.

Bright Ideas, the darkly delicious comedy now playing at Circle Theatre, does just that by asking Macbeth to step in for Dr. Spock. The results are predictably disastrous and unexpectedly hilarious.

The central characters in this comedy of bad manners by Eric Coble are Joshua (Andy Baldwin) and Genevra (Norah Sweeney Villanueva), who are what we used to call "yuppies" (a descriptive term that has been replaced by the more apt "self-absorbed idiots"). They are also classic "helicopter parents," hovering over their 3-year-old son. Except their helicopter is of the Apache attack variety.

Because they want the absolute best for their child, they set their sights on a coveted slot in a snooty preschool, the Bright Ideas Academy. And the intensity of their efforts is enough to make Lady Macbeth blanch.

Coble's excellent script is superbly illuminated by director Robin Armstrong and her players. You will seldom see a production that hits on all cylinders as consistently as this show.

Baldwin, long one of the stronger performers in our area, finds a new level here. He is an energetic actor who can sometimes shake his reins and go over the top. But he delivers a carefully measured performance in his role of a man overwhelmed by his life and wife.

Villanueva is even stronger as his damn-the-torpedoes spouse. Her portrayal is beautifully nuanced, taking her character from a mouse to a lioness with perfectly paced, invisible steps.

Playing off this out-of-control couple are Megan McClure, John Venable and Leslie Patrick, who portray other parents and school figures. All three match the quality work provided by the leads to the point that it would be unfair to call them supporting actors.

Armstrong, who also costumed the show, has great fun with the many nods to the Bard's Scottish tragedy. They are sometimes blatant (two of the unseen children are named Mac and Duncan) and sometimes subtle (Villanueva's tartan skirt). And anytime a cast is this good top to bottom, the director deserves some of the credit.

Everything else, from Clare Floyd DeVries' set design to John Leach's lighting plan, also works brilliantly.