Friday, November 14, 2014

A KID LIKE JAKE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

The Rep's Studio season kicks off with Daniel Pearle's skillfully crafted one-act drama, "A Kid Like Jake", and begins with Alex (Leigh Williams) frantically brooding over a table full of applications for her son. The rat race of getting your kid accepted into a good private school is fraught with pressure, you understand -- even if the schools you're applying to are pre-schools. But Pearle's play is about much more than this.

Alex, an ex-lawyer who is now a stay-at-home mom, and her husband Greg (Alex Hanna), a clinical psychologist, are trying to place their gifted 4-year-old son Jake, never seen onstage, into one of Manhattan's prestigious kindergartens. Jake has excelled in all of the tests these schools require, but he loves Disney movies and favors dressing up as Cinderella or Snow White as opposed to your run of the mill pirate costumes for Halloween, and his penchant for Disney princesses over GI Joe has been getting him into a couple of scuffles with the other kids at school.
Leigh Williams (Alexandra) and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Judy (Susan Pellegrino), a friend of the family and administrator at Jake's current pre-school, suggests that his "gender-variant play" might help him stand out and offer a bit of the diversity these esteemed pre-schools are looking for, but Alex and Greg's reaction to their son's tendencies take increasingly diverse paths during the course of the play. Alex is convinced that her son is just going through a phase, and Greg, willing to accept that Jake's inclinations may be more than just a phase, favors therapy to help Jake work through the taunts he's been getting from other kids, and the stress the family is going through from Alex's new pregnancy.

Susan Pellegrino (Judy), Leigh Williams (Alexandra)
and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
Pearle, endowed with a great ear for dialogue that rings true, strikes a full round of emotional notes in his play. Seth Gordon's nimble direction keeps the play running at an engaging clip, and Hanna and Williams display a palpable chemistry that draws you to these parents, so that later when the tensions that rise between them reach an emotional apex, you're completely invested. Pellegrino gives a wonderfully shaded performance as a well-intentioned Judy, and Jacqueline Thompson completes the cast as a warmhearted nurse who consoles Alex during her difficult pregnancy. Gianni Downs makes great use of the Rep's studio stage providing backdrops and set inserts that stand in as the couple's house, Judy's office and a waiting room. Lou Bird's modern costume design, John Wylie's agile lighting design and Rusty Wandall's sound design and original music round out the production's sharp creative contributions.

Leigh Williams (Alexandra) and Alex Hanna (Greg).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.
"A Kid Like Jake" may play out against a backdrop of privilege, but the topic at the center is a challenging one, and here, executed with polish. You've only got this weekend to check it out at the Rep Studio.


A KID LIKE JAKE

Written by Daniel Pearle
Directed by Seth Gordon
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 16 | tickets: $50 - $65
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm and 7pm

Cast:
Alex Hanna* (Greg), Susan Pellegrino* (Judy), Jacqueline Thompson (the nurse), Leigh Williams* (Alexandra)
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Gianni Downs; costume design by Lou Bird; lighting design by John Wylie; original music and sound design by Rusty Wandall; stage manager, Shannon B. Sturgis.

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