All you need to know about changing attitudes toward gender dysphoria in the six years since A Kid Like Jake premiered is summed up at the Pasadena Playhouse this month. While Jake plays upstairs in the Carrie Hamilton Theatre, on the main stage downstairs the spectacular Mj Rodriguez is getting raves as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. When a trans woman is embraced in a female role, do parents still have to worry when their preschool-age son expresses a preference for dresses and watching Cinderella ?
Well, yes. Even in hip, gentrified Brooklyn, it’s an issue. Jake’s mother Alex (Sarah Utterback) alternately indulges her child’s play and dress preferences and omits mention of them when applying to private elementary schools. Dad Greg (Tim Peper) is laid back, just hoping everything works out. His wife is unsure whether Jake is going through a phase; Greg sums up the situation as, “He’s not exactly Johnny Basketball.”
It falls on preschool head Judy (Sharon Lawrence) to state the obvious and gently guide Alex and Greg through the application process. She explains that, “the numbers are insane and everyone wants diversity.”
The parents must grapple with strategizing about and capitalizing on what makes their child “special,” that loaded word. Judy, who’s used to difficult parents who don’t see themselves that way, insists that schools will be supportive of Jake and that they look at the whole family, not the individual child. “It’s a very exciting time to be a parent,” she tells two parents who crave a little less excitement in their parenting process.
The main character is the unseen but vividly painted Jake, whose “gender-expansive play” and its repercussions send the adults in his world into a convoluted tizzy. Utterback beautifully pulls off a complicated everymom, wanting what’s best for her child, wishing she knew what “best” was. Peper is everydad, trying gamely to keep his wife happy but ultimately forced to express an opinion of his own.
Sharon Lawrence shines as the expert whose seen it all, beautifully expressing Judy’s warmth, diplomacy, expertise and firm hand. Her Judy rightfully notes, “Kids keep you in touch with the mysteries of living.” Lawrence is a Larchmont-area local with a recurring role in Showtime’s new On Becoming a God in Central Florida. She was recently announced as host of the Ebell’s upcoming holiday ball.
The play, by Daniel Pearle, is multi-layered, allowing audience members to relate in a multitude of different ways to the characters’ dilemmas and choices. Director Jennifer Chambers expertly guides the action, including elegant transitions between scene locations on DeAnne Millais’ well-designed set.
A Kid Like Jake runs through Nov. 3 Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 7:00 pm at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molina Ave. in Pasadena. Tickets are $35 at iamatheatre.com, or call 323-380-8843. Parking is $5 in the underground lot across the street. Leave time for dinner at Trejo’s Cantina in the Pasadena Playhouse complex.