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By Lisa Lyons

Six years ago, the terms “cis-gender” or “non-binary” were not part of the American vernacular. However, as more attention is being paid to making roles in society more inclusive, these terms are now part of the current highly charged atmosphere surrounding self-identity and LGBTQ politics.

“A Kid Like Jake,” now playing at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse, is graced with firm direction by Jennifer Chambers, and Daniel Pearle’s one-act drama (originally staged in 2013 at LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater) has been given a facelift to bring the underlying issues into more precise focus.

Alex and Greg, a New York couple with a small son, are trying to guarantee his acceptance into a high-quality pre-school and are knee-deep in paperwork and admission test drills. Assisting them in their quest is Judy, a sympathetic school administrator, and social worker, well acquainted with the qualifying hoops parents must jump through to gain admission for their kids into the elite institutions. It is the parent essay, which asks Alex and Greg to define their son’s unique qualities that propel the action throughout the play.

The core question the playwright poses – and the actors portray beautifully – is when to accept and celebrate a child’s unique persona and when to protect them from a society that is too quick to label a person’s tendencies and, therefore judge and define them in a non-inclusive way.

Sounds pedantic, but in playwright Pearle’s hands, it is a deeply, emotionally-affecting experience. All parents go through the “did we do the right thing” when it comes to raising children; second-guessing themselves, they try to avoid making mistakes that could be catastrophic in their child’s future. But when do innocent child play and make-believe cross the line into shaping a one’s realization of self? And can a 4-year-old understand something that to them is as natural as breathing?

Alex, a tightly-wound former corporate lawyer and now stay at home Tiger Mom, is played to taut perfection by Sarah Utterback. Her obvious intelligence vies with her emotional need to see her child live up to his full potential. As her confused therapist husband Greg, Tim Peper, captures the frustration of a man unable to connect with his son as he’d like and seeing the woman he loves slip farther away from him in her obsession with getting Jake into a quality pre-school. Together, they are heartbreaking in their pain and devastatingly identifiable for their concern over whether to acknowledge or ignore their son’s instincts for self-expression.

Sharon Lawrence, as Judy, a school administrator and friend/adviser to Alex and Greg, brings her usual warmth and sharply focused characterization to the role. Supportive yet cautionary, she struggles to reveal the real issue the family is dealing with. Her obvious affection for both Jake and Alex prevents her from getting strict with them –  that is, until Alex attacks her credibility, and Judy retreats to a self-protective distance.

Olivia Liang, who plays Alex’s OB-GYN nurse, has the challenge of creating a character who is seemingly tangential to the action until one pivotal scene. That said, she brings a measured calm to all the fevered emotions on the stage and has a strong supportive presence.

Despite never seeing ‘Jake,’ we have a strong sense of his presence, which is reflected in the detailed set and props by DeAnne Millais and Heath Harper, respectively. Excellent work too by Lighting Designer Ginevra Lombardo, and Composer and Sound Designer Peter Bayne; the remainder of the technical team includes Costume Designer Melissa Trn, Technical Director Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann, and Scenic Painter Lacey Anzelc,

IAMA Theatre Company, established in 2007, is one of the active, creative entities in the Los Angeles theater scene that strives to present original and compelling stories for audiences; in this one, they have succeeded admirably.

“A Kid Like Jake” is playing through November 3 at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre, upstairs at the Pasadena Playhouse located at 39 S. El Molino Avenue in Pasadena. For tickets and more information, please call 323-380-8843 or visit iamatheatre.com.


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