Performer Jane Anderson puts all of us--children and parents alike--through the wringer in her solo show, "How to Raise a Gifted Child," at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Of course parents want their kid to be gifted, and some, like Sylvia Gatch, insist upon it, despite all evidence to the contrary. People like this deserve a major-league ribbing, and Anderson delivers it. The title leads us to expect as much.
But that doesn't let Leslie, daughter of Sylvia and Mel, off the hook. We could have called her hippie phase--the only predictable moment in an otherwise irrepressibly inventive show. She changes her name to Serenity and names her own kid Sky, after giving birth to him in, let's say, a highly experimental procedure. Sylvia is funny, but Leslie is a joke.
Yet, none of the whimsical ideas and remarkable effects Anderson creates reduce her characters to mere social targets. The very structure of her piece expresses the cyclical pattern of life and death, and how the sins of our lineage are passed on, through us, to the next generation. Nor for a moment is this a lament. Instead, Anderson's work is a satire textured in lavender, not dark colors.
It's important, for instance, that Sylvia the stage mother not be a stage monster--spying out an ICM agent at one of Leslie's auditions, shoving her in the arms of an over-the-hill Russian ballet teacher. Leslie's the only thing in her life, so devotion--even her brand of it--seems natural. Mel is busy trying to outdo Rube Goldberg in his dreams while running his dry-cleaning business. Not much of a father, but we like him.