Kumble Plays With the Politics of Preschool

04/23/2011 06:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2011

Roger Kumble's new comedy Girls Talk, at the Lee Strasberg Theatre in West Hollywood, has everyone talking. Kumble (Cruel Intentions, Furry Vengeance) is not your typical playwright of female satire, in fact, he stated, "I didn't want to write about men in Hollywood and I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to write a really good play for women." And that's exactly what he did.

In his new comedy, he takes the audience into the lives of elite women (and their nannies) and documents a slice of the lives of five characters -- three are juggling their day-to-day family responsibilities, their day-to-day work responsibilities and lengthly applications for preschools; the fourth is childless and mono-focused on maintaining her professional success at all cost and the fifth is trying to support them in the best way she knows how.

The play is fast paced and, at points, highly satirical and funny with an uncomfortable familiarity. "We started rehearsing the play as if we were doing a sitcom," shared Brooke Shields who starred as Lori. "It was fun and ridiculous and so we all signed on to it, but then we would experience these very real moments and quickly realized we shouldn't degrade the characters in any way, and all of a sudden, it became extremely authentic, remained very humorous, but there was an honesty and a discomfort in all of it."

The play opens with breast-pumping Lori (Brooke Shields/Andrea Savage,) a less than satisfied, stay at home mom, patiently instructing the nanny in the proper use of the telephone's speaker feature. When Lori's former writing partner, Claire (Constance Zimmer/Jamie Denbo) arrives with the news of a huge opportunity to reunite and pen a screenplay for the producer, Oprah Winfrey, the poop hits the fan. Claire tries to lure Lori back into the biz, but Lori is conflicted, as she has recently signed on to co-chair the upcoming Temple Jerusalem Preschool fundraiser in Beverly Hills with celebrity "Mommy Maven" Jane (Andrea Bendewald).

After excitedly committing to join Claire's creative effort, she discovers that the big pitch to Oprah is in Chicago, Illinois, on the same day as the school's fundraiser. While this conflict may seem simple to process, it is not unlike the layered challenges modern day mommies face. We see Lori struggling to integrate her work ambitions with the desire to get her children into the best schools. "I was going to write a play that took place during a baby shower," commented playwright Kumble, "But I couldn't get excited about it. Coincidentally, it was the same time my wife and I were taking tours of various day schools. I was staying up late to engage in the all-consuming application process and it became this thing."

It wasn't a stretch to make the preschool application process dramatic. Far too often, in an almost sorority rush manner, it is a race up the social ladder to the best schools. Nicole Paggi, the scene stealing, first-time thespian, plays wide-eyed Scarlett, A new mom in town trying to earn friends by converting to Judaism. Nicole shared her take on the moms' the play's characters emulate: "Being a good mom means getting your kids into a 'good school,' because if they aren't accepted into these schools, they somehow aren't measuring up."

Constance Zimmer, who premiered in the role of Claire shared that when she applied to schools in Los Angeles for her real-life daughter, it was a grueling process. "I applied to five preschools and we didn't get into one! Zimmer is afraid that unless her daughter goes to a respected pre-school, the path to kindergarten and then to (gasp) high school will be rocky. "It isn't fair that you have to have a certain amount of money, or live in a particular neighborhood to get good education. I don't understand why it isn't made available everywhere and to everyone."

But Zimmer wasn't the only actress who had the real life experience of the preschool applications. For Shields, there was a question on her application that asked, "What can you offer the school?" To which she naively answered, "I can offer you parents who believe in their child, a child who has proven time and again that she is hungry for knowledge," but, sure enough, her daughter didn't get in. They wanted a number value. "I had no idea," said Shields. "I am proud of my answer, but it was amazing that money was more valued than a young open mind ready for anything." She added, "When it becomes the reason that one child is afforded an education and another is not, that is where I start to feel guilty, scared, angry, frustrated and helpless."

While the play focuses on the struggles of elite women in Bel Air, the story could take place almost anywhere. Kumble reminds us that, "Outside of the LA-specific jokes, the story at the heart of the piece is universal. Mothers struggling to have it all are everywhere."

Roger Kumble, David Elzer and Molly O'Keefe are thrilled to announce that Girls Talk is extending with two new "girls" at the Lee Strasberg Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. Brooke Shields and Constance Zimmer left the cast on Sunday, April 10 and Andrea Savage and Jamie Denbo joined the cast -- Andrea Bendewald, Eileen Galindo and Nicole Paggi will perform through Saturday, May 7! Come see what everyone is talking about.