September 17, 2019

Perils of the ‘Perfect’ Student

In New York, parents tell horror stories about the pressure to get their 5-year-old kids into the right kindergartens, the kind attended by Woody Allen’s kids. In Los Angeles, the social cachet may be even more skewed.

“So and so from the Lakers’ kid goes to some school,” says playwright David Levinson, whose play, “Early Decision,” at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica, has tapped into the Zeitgeist about the mania surrounding college admissions.

“I never really think of the Lakers as being emblematic of the world’s greatest scholars,” says Levinson, yet to some going to school with the child of a Laker or a big-time Hollywood director seems to suggest a bizarre status.

In “Early Decision,” Levinson shows the pathetic lengths to which parents will go to ensure that their child attends an Ivy League school — paying $4,000 for an SAT prep class, sending junior off on some resume-padding do-gooder mission, even writing junior’s college application essay.

The crazed quotidian lifestyle of these kids — rushing off to see their tutors, prepping for a starring role in the high school play, reading to a blind Holocaust survivor, as well as taking AP classes — leads one high school senior in “Early Decision” to have a nervous breakdown, while Claire, the central figure in the play, decides to forgo college.

Levinson, who has three children, says of the college and even middle-school application process that “it’s a nutty system,” pointing out that the parents are so much more involved in the lives of the kids than they used to be when he was a student at Milton Academy, a Boston-area prep school, in the 1970s.

While the characters in the play are primarily Westside Jews, Levinson contends that the phenomenon is not unique to any one race, ethnicity or religion. He notes that many Asian and South Asian parents and children go through a similar ritual of torment when the children are as young as 11.

“It’s a universal thing,” he said. “There’s tons of pressure to get into these schools. It’s corrupting; makes kids cynical. The burnout factor must be enormous.”

“Early Decision” plays at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, 2437 Main St., Santa Monica; Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Dec. 4; (310) 392-7327.