Arts & Theatre

‘A Kid Like Jake’ explores the implications and expectations with childhood gender expression, both for the child and the parents.

The production at the Pasadena Playhouse presents the reality of how two liberal parents handle gender expression in their child with unnerving realism.

In “A Kid Like Jake,” the seemingly surface-level disagreements between two parents about their child’s schooling become a larger conversation about his gender expression and diversity as the two prepare to have another child.

Jake’s parents, Alex and Greg, each have different ideas as to how their son Jake should be schooled. Alex wants Jake to study to attend an elite private preschool while Greg believes he should go where he best fits. The argument then turns to Jake’s “Cinderella” obsession and other traits that other students bully him for. Jake’s teacher Judy thinks that these traits might be indicators of him being a girl or nonbinary. She suggests that this makes Jake stand out on his preschool applications since Jake would be a more diverse applicant in the admissions pool. Alex thinks this would be capitalizing on his differences before he even knows that he is different.

Through what feels like a series of arguments that progress with fervor, the audience learns how the intensity at which Jake acts out affects the parents' relationship and vice versa.

Alex believes that Jake is just going through a phase while Greg believes that Jake should see a professional. Judy provides the parents with insight into their son’s behavior at school and is supportive of Jake exploring his identity, saying that “the impulse to take children as they are is not an agenda!” Judy is the driving factor in the parent’s decision to get Jake a therapist but this choice further drives the tension between Alex and Greg.

Things take a turn when Alex miscarries in the climax of the argument between Judy and Greg. The play ends rather unresolved, but with the audience getting the idea that their loss will prompt them to acknowledge their son’s gender in a new light.

There is a dreamy, metaphysical sequence toward the end of the piece where Alex communicates to “Jake,” represented by a nurse (Olivia Liang, understudied by Courtney Pack at this performance). This felt out of line with the realism of the entire play and felt like it an effort to prove the play’s societal relevance to the audience in a way that it didn’t have to.

Despite this, the way in which the playwright (Daniel Pearle) brings up questions of how to raise a feminine young boy through the lens of two liberal parents from Brooklyn. What starts out as a collection of banal family quarrels actually reveals the effects of the construction of gender and gender binary on parents and the children they raise within it. The idea of thinking they understand and endorse gender expression but struggling deeply when it being transgender becomes a reality in their child provides a different way for audiences to examine the human condition. This makes for a play that is fascinating to watch but confusing for an audience to interpret because the reasons why Alex is afraid of him being transgender are not truly fleshed out.

The technical elements play a leading role in this production. Chamber’s decision to have a thrust stage gives the audience the feeling that they are secretly peering through a window as the structured inner workings of a family start to dissolve. The outstanding lighting design talents of Ginevra Lombardo stood out as a way to transport the audience to different locations despite a lack of set changes. It is showcased as a fundamental part of the artistry, with cool or warm lighting sequences in between scenes to further the tone of the specific scene.

When watching the play, I yearned to see Jake and for him to be a physical character, which at times even pulled me out of the production. But while looking back on the piece as a whole, it is evident that the show is actually not about Jake at all. The absence of Jake’s character gave us a different window to peer through into the life of raising a gender-expansive child in a gender binary defined and label opposing liberal society.

“A Kid Like Jake” runs now through November 3rd and tickets can be purchased here. This production is presented by the IAMA theater Company as a Guest Performance at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse.