The opening night audience for Daniel Pearle’s revised version of his 2013 play, A Kid Like Jake, was enthusiastic and laughed a lot. Although there is humor in the play, as all great drama needs comic relief (Macbeth’s drunken Porter; Hamlet’s Grave Digger), this production quickly sucked me into the trying problems of an upwardly-mobile Manhattan couple who are desperate to place their boy, four-year-old Jake, into a kindergarten that would fit his unique personality. As performed in the close confines of the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse, I felt I was literally in the locales of all the scenes—the couple’s living room, the office of the head of the boy’s preschool, a restaurant, and a doctor’s office.
What is the urgency? Jake show signs of affiliating himself in ways more feminine than masculine. At Halloween, he would rather dress up as Elsa from Frozen, than as a character like a pirate or some other choice potentially more gender neutral. In pre-school, he also tends toward occasional erratic misbehavior and shows signs of anger.
Alex (Sarah Utterback), a lawyer who has become a stay-at-home mom, and Greg (Tim Peper), a therapist, eschew the notion of a public school kindergarten, but need financial aid to make it into an upscale placement. Alex is in the process of writing applications, and collaborates with the friendly, sympathetic head of Jake’s pre-school, Judy (Sharon Lawrence), who is well aware of Jake’s predilection. Alex is intensely focused. Tim is acquiescent and supportive. As the play progresses, the situation becomes more and more untenable. The tension mounts when Alex reveals that she is pregnant. And Jake shows signs of violence.
Exquisitely directed by Jennifer Chambers, the cast, including the sympathetic nurse (Olivia Liang), is superb in bringing the playwright’s tightly written script to vivid, intimate life. As the play surges toward the climactic scenes, the audience is rapt in pin-drop attention. A dénouement of magic realism brings the show gently to a close. A Kid Like Jake is drama as good as it gets.
The inspired set design by DeAnne Millais, with a subtle lighting plot by Ginevra Lombardo, and properties by designer Heath Harper, shows a living room with all the accoutrement that one would expect in an apartment with a four-year-old child, and which, with the quick movement of a few set pieces by the cast, becomes all the different locales called for in the script. Costumes by designer Melissa Trn support character and action. Lucy Houlihan manages the stage; Jordan Bass is the casting director; and the dramaturg is Kimberly Calburn.
Produced for IAMA Theatre Company by Lexi Sloan, along with associate producer Che Landon, A Kid Like Jake runs through November 3 as a Guest Production at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Avenue in Pasadena.