This will be a good season for theater.
At least it will be if The Invisible Theatre’s “A Kid Like Jake,” which launched the 2014-15 season, is any indication.
The Daniel Pearle play, which opened Wednesday, is provocative, poignant and heartbreaking.
Smoothly directed by Kevin Black, it is also quite funny, (thankfully) devoid of sentimentality, and propelled by a killer cast.
It has the potential — happily never realized in this production — to be a tad insufferable.
“A Kid Like Jake” is about a well-to-do New York City couple anguishing over getting their 4-year-old son, Jake, into the “right” school — read exclusive and expensive.
The mother, Alex, wrings her hands and frets because Jake favors Disney princesses over Tonka trucks — which are just fine at home, but a whole other story when his preferences are exposed to the world and threaten to define him. The school counselor guiding them in Jake’s applications thinks his “gender variant” behavior is just the edge needed to get him accepted.
The father, Greg, is a therapist with a let-it-be attitude.
Rather than be off-putting because of the seemingly snooty lifestyle, “A Kid Like Jake” makes it clear that money and education is not a guard to escaping the challenges of parenting or of marriage, and that we can be our own worst enemies.
Here’s what we loved:
- While the never-seen Jake gets his name in the title, this is really Alex’s story, and Lori Hunt illuminates her anger, her angst, her passion and her fierce love. Alex’s journey from a mother anxious to get her son into the best school to one who must take a good look at her feelings about Jake’s “gender-variant” behavior, her marriage and herself, is a difficult one. Often, you just want to shout “Oh, get over it.” But just when you think you’ve had enough of Alex, Hunt pulls you back in, rooting for the character.
- Black stepped into the role of Greg when another actor dropped out, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else shaping the character. Greg, a liberal-leaning shrink, who clearly thinks everyone should have their say and be who they are, is almost too smooth, too understanding. Then Black-as-Greg rages and raves when his wife pushes him. The climactic argument the two have is so organic, so familiar, that it is almost painful to watch.
- The chemistry between Black and Hunt was palpable — you could easily see how the two fell in love, and just as easily see how they clash.
- Cynthia Jeffery gives vibrant life to Judy, the school counselor who suggests that Alex and Greg exploit Jake’s play preferences in their applications to preschools. It’s the difference that schools look for, she insists. Jeffery makes Judy harsh, tender and whip-smart.
“A Kid Like Jake” is a bit of a jolt — while it offers resolution, it offers no solution to the conundrum the parents face about their child and each other. But that, too, rings true — in life, there is often no solution to what bothers us, just our resolve to try to accept things with grace and love.