Saturday, March 19, 2016

A KID LIKE JAKE probes the effects of heredity & environment at none too fragile

In their catalog, Dramatists Play Service, which owns the production rights to Daniel Pearle’s A KID LIKE JAKE, states, “On the eve of the admissions cycle for Manhattan’s most exclusive private schools, Alex and Greg have high hopes for their son Jake, a precocious four-year old who happens to prefer Cinderella to G. I. Joe.  But as the process continues, Jake’s behavior becomes erratic and perplexing, and other adults in his life start to wonder whether his fondness for dress-up might be cause for concern.”

Yes, that’s a surface level description of Pearle’s explosive and thought-provoking play.   What the catalog description misses is the need to look beyond the story line and get into the psychological and sociological issues raised.

A major topic in theories in the social sciences centers on roles of nature and nurture.  Is a person destined to be and do what their genes dictate?  Can predispositions be influenced by a person’s environment?  Is a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, possible addictions (e.g., alcoholism, eating dysphoria, drug dependency) set by heredity or influenced by cultural inputs?

There is a ritual of competition that seems to arise from living in a place where it is difficult to gain recognition.  There is a mass of people competing for the same thing, whether it is for school placement or finding a parking spot.

Manhattan residents tend to be anxiety driven, failing to take a deep breath and relax.  They walk fast, talk fast, set extremely high goals, go to extremes. 

From the time an upper middle to upper class New York child is born, they are on a tread mill to get into the “best” pre-school, elementary school, high school and college, to rise to the top, be a winner, no matter the cost.

In A KID LIKE JAKE, Alex, Jake’s mother, is the product of not only wealth but an exacting mother.  She is obsessive compulsive.  Everything has to be right. Things must be preplanned and structured.  She obsesses over the selection of every single word in Jake’s school entrance essays.  Jake is prepped for ERB entrance tests, his every action is scrutinized. Alex constantly checks in at his pre-school regarding the boy’s actions.  His Halloween costumes and birthday parties must be “right.” 

Each night she reads him fairy tales, with an emphasis on Cinderella, just as Alex was.  He is surrounded by stereotypical “girl” stuff.  He has no “boy” toys and listens to no “boy’ stories. 

Is there any question of why Jake identifies with girls and girl things?

Wonder if his identity patterns would have been different if she had read him “boy” stories and exposed him to “boy” toys? 

Greg, his father, a non-athlete, doesn’t toss around a ball with his son in the park, they don’t share any rough-housing.   Environmentalists might conjure if this is also part of the reason for Jake’s actions and identity. 

Greg  is a psychologist who deals with adults and their issues.  He is in emotional control and approaches the world logically, but not in a non-flexible way.  A product of the public schools and a modest financial background, he seems less driven than his wife to find the “perfect” school.  He sneaks Jake out to McDonald’s, much against his wife’s wishes.

Is Jake reflecting his environmental influences when he states he wants to be a girl or does he have a pre-disposition toward awareness that he was born into the wrong gender body?

In an interview the author indicates that he went through a ‘Cinderella phase.”  He states, “My mom read me a lot of fairy tales when I was little.”  “Snow White was the first movie he saw.”

Pearle’s script encourages much discussion and thought regarding Jake.  The author might consider doing a follow-up, centering around Jake in early adulthood with not only a spotlight on his gender “decisions,” but the relationship of his parents, who we leave with Alex hinting at divorce and Greg saying, “Good luck on finding someone who will put up with you.”

Rachel Lee Kolis must be close to collapse at the end of each production.  With repeated physical gestures, facial expressions and vocal hysterics she creates an Alex who is on the very edge of psychological collapse because of her obsessive tendencies.  She is like a rubber band, about to snap.

 Geoff Knox develops a Greg who has learned well the mental health professional’s ability to control his emotions in the face of stress and chaos.  His speech where he confronts Alex’s potential divorce scenario was powerful.

Katie Wells is effective in her roles as a nurse and a grown-up Jake in a dream sequence.

The play’s pacing was hampered by time consuming and emotional stopping excessive movements of set pieces and costume changes.

Capsule judgement:  A KID LIKE JAKE is a well-developed, thought-provoking script, centering on the contemporary topics of gender identity, parental relationships, and the controversy of nature versus nurture.  The acting is excellent.  It is the type of production that incites discussion and will be appealing to a thinking audience.

For tickets to A KID LIKE JAKE which runs through March 26, 2016 at none too fragile theater in Akron, call 330-671-4563 or go to

The next none too fragile production is Martin McDonagh’s THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE from April 22-May 7, 2016.