Daniel Pearle’s 2013 play “A Kid Like Jake” takes a clear-eyed but sympathetic look at one couple’s attempts to get their 4-year-old into a prestigious private preschool. The stressful strategizing and prepping, ostensibly for the child’s best interests, eventually reveal insecurities and doubts in the marriage.
Deep Dish Theater Company’s production is a moving wake-up call about the danger signals in a rocky relationship.
Alex and her husband, Greg, seem like perfect, sophisticated parents, allowing son Jake to develop his own personality without undue influence. That he’s currently obsessed with dolls and princess attire doesn’t appear to concern them.
But when they decide to apply to private preschools for Jake, Alex doesn’t want to mention Jake’s tendencies. However, Judy, the head of Jake’s kindergarten, encourages Alex to emphasize his leanings as an appeal to the preschools’ goals for diversity.
Alex’s continued reluctance is fueled by Jake’s increasing antisocial behavior. Greg, a psychiatrist, thinks Alex is being too restrictive and conservative, causing growing friction between them, revealing deep-rooted differences.
Pearle astutely balances conflicting views among Alex, Greg and Judy, making it impossible to completely side with any of them. He also lays bare the traps parents easily fall into when focusing on things other than children’s real needs.
However, the hour and 45-minute one-act play takes too long to engage, as its first few scenes bog down in details of the application process. But once the fissures in the relationship begin to show, the script takes the audience on an ever-accelerating rollercoaster ride, leading to several gripping confrontations.
Director Tony Lea keeps the dialog brisk and the characterizations real. Meredith Sause’s Alex is multilayered, expertly revealing her conflicting emotions and private hurts. Jim Moscater’s Greg makes an intriguing contrast, his cheerful, relaxed attitude masking questions about his fathering skills.
As Judy, Rasool Jahan gives a winning portrait of a caring professional who just might have an agenda of her own. Jess Jones is quietly efficient as a nurse attending newly pregnant Alex, but blossoms in a surprise, last-minute twist.
Despite being overly long, and with too many tension-breaking scene changes, the play should bring on some useful self-examination about what makes good parents and strong relationships.