Parenting is not easy for Alex (Sarah Utterback) and Greg (Tim Peper) with their precocious son Jake in the West Coast Premiere “A Kid Like Jake” by Daniel Pearle and presented by IAMA Theatre Company. Marriage isn’t a piece of cake either, as we see in this explosive drama about a couple whose son prefers to dress up as Cinderella, instead of playing with trucks or G.I. Joe figures.
Taking my seat in the intimate Carrie Hamilton Theatre, above the Pasadena Playhouse, the play opens with a stressed out Alex trying to find the right words for an essay she has to include in a private primary school application. It has to be perfect so her Jake can get into one of the prestigious private Kindergartens in New York City.
Seeking Jake’s preschool director Judy’s (award winning Sharon Lawrence) advice, she alerts the couple to a side of Jake that is becoming more transparent. He has a deep fondness to dress up as a princess, and not a prince.
Lawrence stands out in this four performer show. Her professional Broadway credits include Chicago, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cabaret, as well as Emmy winning television roles and Drama Critic recognition. When she reveals to Alex and Greg that their son is comfortable with gender expansive play, her subtle facial expressions and movements throughout this and other scenes are riveting to watch.
The more stressed Jake’s parents are about getting Jake into an expensive school that they can’t afford, the more frustrated everyone including Jake gets. Even at this young age he can feel the tension and grows frustrated and perplexed. Not only are his peers teasing him, but his parents are questioning what is allowed inside the home and what needs to be hidden outside.
Alex and Tim have different parenting styles, which puts tension on the whole situation causing a crack in their marriage that may or may not ever be repaired.
Set designer DeAnne Millais’ set is a typical family living room of a four year old child. Brightly colored cards hang on a wall unit listing the months of the year. Shelves are filled with books, toys and bins to store art supplies. There is a comfortable couch with a “Woody” doll from Toy Story near a coffee table.
In the corner is a desk and chairs to represent Judy’s office at the preschool. Millais is clever in making good use of the set, transforming it into a doctor office, restaurant and the office of a director of a preschool with the help of of lighting designer Ginevra Lombardo.
As Judy convinces Alex that primary private schools want diversity and to capitalize on Jake’s special qualities, she says “They want kids and parents that stand out.” Since Jake prefers girl’s dress up and girls toys, Judy believes gender expansive expression should be highlighted in the private school applications. “Schools don’t just look at the kid, they look at the whole family.”
The likable nurse played by Olivia Liang is a newcomer compared to the other actors, having recently graduated from college.
This whole process stresses Alex so much. Everyone can see the tension on her face, which causes her health to decline. Director Jennifer Chambers has the cast stay in character as the characters remove props onstage while staying in character showing concernment, frustration and hopefulness throughout the play.
Another spectacular performance is by Tim Peper, a likable father and husband who blows a fuse and explodes from the stress of uncertainty about his future towards the end of the play. Peper shows his acting skills with raw courage as he roars like a lion at Alex. His intensity pierced my core, as this terrified and frustrated man pleads with his wife to get her wits about her. It’s a heartbreaking scene to watch causing both actors to tear up.
Some of my favorite lines include Judy telling Alex “We don’t always have to have answers, we just have to keep listening,” What this play highlights is how when kids grow, their personality changes. This process can be very hard on parents and the family unit.
This 90 minute show has no intermission in the intimate Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse.
A Kid Like Jake
Performances now through November 3
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 7 p.m.
Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molina Ave.
Pasadena, CA. 91101
Tickets: General Admission $35