Laurene Scalf, Michael Mayes & Lauren McCombs in A Kid Named Jake
Photo-The Bard’s Town
A Kid Named Jake
By Daniel Pearle
Directed by Andrew Epstein
Review by Eli Keel
Entire contents are copyright © 2015 Eli Keel. All rights reserved.
The Bard’s Towns latest production raises important issues in a slow burning play. The tension that finally explodes creates one of the most painful onstage verbal fights I’ve ever watched.
But it’s about parenting, so what did you expect?
(Mild spoilers to follow)
A Kid Like Jake is an issue play. As such it must attempt to serve two hard mistresses, drama and education. Playwright Daniel Pearl does a wonderful juggling act, but he’s created problems for the actors and director Andy Epstein to solve, and occasionally the script creates unavoidably difficult moments.
The titular kid in question in is Jake. As deadlines approach, and applications to good schools are due, the audience watches as one of the most important decisions of Jake’s life gets made; where will Jake go to kindergarten?
It’s a high stakes world. Jake’s parents Alex (Lauren McCombs) and Greg (Michael Mayes) are doing their best to navigate the kindergarten selection process, but to make sure they get Jake into the best school they have enlisted the help of Judy (Laurene Scalf), the woman who runs Jake’s exclusive preschool.
All three of these actors are given a lot to work with, and they turn in admirable performances. They have big jobs, because the action revolves around all three characters wanting to achieve the same goal together. Their only conflict is that they have different ideas on how to get there. That’s tough as hell to play, without either turning the scenes into a snooze fest or an exhausting, always-turned-up-to-eleven shout-athon. The actors mostly side step those twin pitfalls, and hopefully the few moments where the pace lagged got squeezed out over the course of the first weekend. Sometimes you just need an audience to get the final bit of timing right.
The pace of the show is helped immensely by an ambitious, well designed, and well-constructed turntable set by Patrick Jump, which limits the many scene changes to under half a minute each.
Jake (who we never see) frequently engages in non-gender normative play. When dress up time comes, he is usually going to be the princess. Judy seems to be forwarding the issue confidently and seeking to create an open discussion, Greg seems uncomfortable talking but willing to follow Judy’s lead. Alex is against talking about it, against naming it, and mostly against her kid being labeled as anything other than “imaginative.” This is the main conflict our characters can’t resolve.
And here is one of the main difficulties that the playwright leaves his actors to solve: Alex is often a hyper-emotional straw man. (Um, straw person?)
She’s the odd person out of the dramatic triangle, the one not talking sense, and the one who ultimately has the largest emotional break. To put it another way, in a play that seems to want to address and possibly dismantle society’s strict gender normative behavior, the character with the most stage time is a hysterical woman who can’t think logically because babies make you crazy.
Lauren McCombs does her best, and her best is very good, but there are times the playwright has left her with an impossible task. She has to say lines like “Maybe it’s just a phase,” and hope we still have room in our hearts to not hate her.
But there is so much right with this script. The frequent use of fairy tales as a cause for discussion, and a spur for action feels true and right on every level. Fairy tales are some of our earliest programing as humans. And for this reviewer at least, it is a strong reminder of difficult childhood memories that tie in thematically with the play. I suspect I’m not alone in this, and a lot of audience members were crying by the end.
While the play ultimately rests on McCombs shoulders, Mayes and Scalf were splendid when called upon to do their share of the heavy lifting, and Erin Jump as the nurse also had one really beautiful and poignant scene that she played to near perfection.
A Kid Like Jake is a difficult play, and it’s not without it’s problems. In the end it serves both the mistresses well enough. As education it needs to be seen, as drama it deserves to be seen.
A Kid Named Jake
February 19 – March 1, 2015 @ 7:30pm
Tickets $15 ($12 for students/seniors), and available in advance at thebardstown.com
The Bards Town Theater
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
[box_light]Eli Keel is a Louisville based playwright, poet, story teller, and freelance journalist. He has been published in Word Hotel, his plays have been produced by Theatre  and Finnigan Productions, and he was invited to read his work at the 2014 Writer’s Block. He is a frequent contributor to Insider Louisville, where he has been given the (informal) title of “Chief of the Bureau of Quirk.”[/box_light]