As glacially slow as it seems at times, the issues of gender bias, sexuality in its many manifestations, gender identity and, perhaps most befuddling to many of us, transgenderism and transexualism, are having the light shined upon them by increasingly vocal advocates to an increasingly less terrified public.
At first glance, Daniel Pearle's play "A Kid Like Jake," given a fine production by the Invisible Theatre as their season opener, seems to intend to do a bit of that light shining. But really, these issues are not so much the point of the proceedings as they are a point of contention between a well-off New York City couple, Greg (Kevin Black, who also directs) and Alex (Lori Hunt) trying to get their son into an upscale private kindergarten.
Still, there it is, the baby elephant in the room, the mystery of gender identification. For a mother whose sole purpose, it seems, is to have her child get into a good school, Alex must confront not only the issue of having a child who enjoys "gender-variant" play, but her attitudes about it all. Jake likes princesses better than Power Rangers, and wants to dress as Snow White for Halloween. Alex finds it fairly innocuous at home, but the possibilities of Jake's behavior bleeding into a more public world plunges her into a palpable anxiety so great that 4-year-old Jake, whom we never see (and never need to) begins to have behavioral problems in pre-school, jeopardizing his standing with the schools she's interested in. In addition her marriage is shaken, and she has a miscarriage, her second. What kind of mother is she?
Alex is actually a difficult character for an actor to deal with. We need to sympathize with her as she struggles with what could only be described as overwrought and obsessive attitudes and behavior. But Hunt manages to find her sympathetic streak even as her confusion and insecurity provide the conflict which moves the play forward.
Husband Greg, a psychologist, doesn't seem at all uncomfortable with Jake's behavior, and tries to soothe his wife, but less and less patiently as time goes by. Guidance counselor Judy (Cynthia Jeffery), helping Alex negotiate the vetting of 4-year-olds to uber-classy schools, tries to point out that Jake's standing in the race might even be improved by his love affair with Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, since such schools are often attracted to students who "stand out."
Pearle's 90-minute play is tight and tidy, perhaps too much so. When you come down to it, the play really sheds no light on the "issue" that it uses as a hook. It's less about gender than it is about wealthy parents in New York doing anything they can to prevent their children from having to go to those dreaded public schools. There's also a strange fantasy scene late in the play that just seems out of place.
But with a solid cast and skilled direction by Black, the piece is still a small but satisfying morsel. Set designers James Blair and Susan Claassen and their technical staff deserve credit for allowing the tiny stage to morph smoothly into four separate locations, no small achievement for such a small piece of theatrical real estate.
This production kicks off a well-stocked theater season here in Tucson. IT sets a high standard.