Theater Review: A KID LIKE JAKE (IAMA Theatre Company at the Pasadena Playhouse)

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by Tony Frankel on October 14, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


The best play on any L.A. stage right now, Daniel Pearle’s 2013 A Kid Like Jake couldn’t be more relevant. The parents of a four-year-old boy are applying for a private primary school in Manhattan with the help of a pre-school admissions counselor, Judy (Sharon Lawrence), who gets caught in the crosshairs of the couple’s confusion and their polar-opposite reactions when it becomes obvious that the Cinderella-loving Jake just might want to be a girl.

The most heartbreaking aspect in this pitch-perfect production is the stress placed on Jake’s parents — ex-lawyer Alex (Sarah Utterback) and therapist Greg (Tim Peper) — whose concepts of their kid differ, with precipitous results: Jake begins acting out due to his parents’ — and society’s — mixed messages, as in It’s OK to be who you are but not in the real world. Greg wants the boy in counseling, Alex thinks it’s a phase. As they bedevil an already perplexing situation, their marriage becomes a messy minefield. The more psychological onion skins are peeled back, the more questions are raised. And because Jennifer Chambers’ pile-driving direction for IAMA Theatre Company occurs on Pasadena Playhouse’s intimate upstairs thrust stage, the battle is even more vivid. Heath Harper’s many props show-off the couple’s affability as well as the love, care and devotion which all the characters innately harbor beneath the friction.

Bravely, the play ends up with no clear verdict. While this may frustrate some playgoers, I applaud Pearle’s refusal to offer easy explanations (although a late-in-the-game dream with Alex’s nurse [Olivia Liang] throws a slight wrench into the dramatic arc); as someone with transgender family members, I’m here to tell you it gets messy (it also gets better).

The play is not only topical but timeless; the core issue is never seen but changes and provokes the characters, just as Arthur Miller’s All My Sons vividly evokes images of munitions factories and war from scenes in a suburban home. Yes, we never meet Jake. With this grippingly unimprovable cast, however, we certainly feel his presence.

photos by Dean Cechvala and Adam Shapiro

A Kid Like Jake
IAMA Theatre Company
Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 7
ends on November 3, 2019
for tickets, call 323.380.8843 or visit IAMA

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