REVIEW: A KID LIKE JAKE at Benchmark Theatre
by Mona Lott
In a culture with constantly shifting and expanding gender norms, Daniel Pearle’s 2013 play, A KID LIKE JAKE, purports to take a look at how to raise a child expressing non-traditional gender roleplay. In this case, four-year-old Jake, who might be exhibiting a gender identity crisis is at the center of the story. The problem in Pearle’s play however is that it barely scratches the surface of a very real and current topic dividing many parents today.
Parents, Alex, played by Adrian Egolf and Greg, played by Antonio Amadeo are in the middle of the very aggressive and sublimely ridiculous task of getting their son Jake, a smart, creative and stubborn boy who loves Cinderella and Disney princesses more so than GI Joe, into a good, exclusive, private Manhattan kindergarten class. They enlist the help of their friend Judy played by Martha Harmon Pardee, who is also the proprietor of Jake’s preschool in getting through the vetting process.
Pardee is masterful as Judy bringing a nuanced performance that tries to make Jake’s gender play the exploitive subject that could give him an edge in being selected by the right school while at the same time trying to make Alex and Greg accept it as the perfectly natural expression of sexuality that it is. Pardee is brilliant in her portrayal and dazzling to watch as she brings out the struggles of the character to keep everything on an even keel.
Matching her in honest and layered performances are both Amadeo and Egolf who manage to bring out the ugliness of Alex and Gregg’s marriage in a scene that plays out so honestly that it seems just a bit too recognizable and thus uncomfortable in a very voyeuristic way.
Michael Duran gives this strong cast a gorgeous set to play on. White upholstered cubes and clean white tables surrounded by geometric patterns painted in very pale pastels that are repeated in the costuming as well, as if to reinforce the very delicacy of raising a kid like Jake. But there is the problem with A Kid Like Jake, his gender identity becomes less of the subject as we are engaged in the parenting and marriage problems of Alex and Greg. When the two finally let loose and express pent up expressions, it is dynamic and aggressively damaging all while being summed up and solved all too cleanly. In fact, the audience was tricked into believing it was the end of the first act and time for intermission when in reality there is no intermission in this Benchmark Theater Production. It almost seems like Pearle forgot to include the second act, in which perhaps the couple examined more of their preconceived notions of gender and their own feelings of progressive thinking when it comes to their own son. Instead we are given a young marriage couples angst with a marriage and parenthood that could have involved any child and not necessarily a kid like Jake.
Warren Sherrill brings together a cast full of superb characterizations including Madison Mckenzie Scott who convincedly takes on the role of the Nurse, in a production that easily transcends the material. The show played Off Broadway and won several awards including the 2013 Laurents/Hatcher Foundation award but still feels half done. This production though, under Sherrill’s capable direction is thrilling to watch with satisfying performances so good it’s possible to forgive Pearle for the gender identifying surfaces he barely manages to scratch.
A KID LIKE JAKE is compelling audiences now through Saturday, March 24th with performances Friday – Saturday evenings at 8pm and Sunday evenings at 6pm. The production will take place at the company’s new home at 40W in Lakewood at 1560 Teller Street. Please visit www.benchmarktheatre.com to purchase tickets and send any inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that children under the age of 6 will not be admitted.