In these days of rising cultural sensitivity to LGBTQ issues, questions are emerging about gender identity as it unfolds developmentally. Do gender-based thoughts and behaviors arise as early as the age of four? Are there signs to look for in youngsters which might predict future gender fluidity? Can the reaction of others to “atypical” gender preferences lead to smoldering anger or acting-out in the very young? These are just some of the points raised by playwright Daniel Pearle in A KID LIKE JAKE. But Pearle also delves into other intertwined and critical issues. What effect might gender preferences have on parenting? How do parents handle their own expectations for and/or fears concerning their offspring? Is there a “right” and a “wrong” way to deal with children who are a little different or special in some way? Will love really conquer all?
Alex (Sarah Utterback) and Greg (Tim Peper) are the parents of a precocious and creative little boy of four. Even though they’ve noticed that little Jake seems to prefer Cinderella to GI Joe, they’ve dismissed this as a “phase” and nothing to worry about. But now Jake is ready for kindergarten, and they are hoping to find him a spot in a gifted elite private school. When their preschool teacher Judy (Sharon Lawrence) points out that he plays “dress-up” in female roles – and once told her that he wished he was a girl – Greg and especially Alex aren’t quite ready to deal with this information. When they find out that their sweet, compliant youngster has recently been fighting with the other kids in his classroom, they are confused and horrified by Jake’s turnaround. How will this impact on his selection to a private school? Are gender identity issues at the heart of the problem? Then Alex finds out that she’s pregnant.
Director Jennifer Chambers does an excellent job of reaching into the very hearts of parents trying their best – while fearing their ultimate failure. Each of the principals does a bang-up of interpreting people trying their best to understand, but people who may not have a clue. In the absence of a manual, how are parents supposed to deal with the unexpected? A KID LIKE JAKE is the anatomy of intense feelings that are in danger of exploding every moment – but may not reach a viable or even logical conclusion. The conundrum only grows more perplexing when Jake, the child everyone is so concerned about, never appears on stage. This is a story which will ring true to everyone who has ever been a parent, including the strains that parenting challenges often bring to marriage.
DeAnne Millais’ scenic design is casual, with random pieces of furniture being moved here and there to house each scene. The intimacy of the theater lends itself admirably to the very intimate and intense struggles happening all around and inside these conflicted characters. The entire production team competently opens a door into everyone’s soul. When all is said and done, A KID LIKE JAKE is a team effort jointly sponsored by director, actors, production crew, and audience members.
A KID LIKE JAKE runs through November 3, 2019, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 7 p.m. on Sundays. The IAMA Theatre Company performs in the Carrie Hamilton Theatre, located at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101. Tickets are $35. For information and reservations, call 323-380-8843 or go online.