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18 June 2013 @ 07:20 pm
A Kid Like Jake - Reviews  
New York Times

Charles Isherwood

A Boy's Love of Cinderella
In 'A Kid Like Jake,' the Title Character Worries His Mother

"We'll get through this," the older woman says to the younger, in a tone oozing sympathy and understanding, clearly intended to buck up faltering spirits. Ripped from its context, the line and its earnest reading might suggest that the troubles being faced are of a life-threatening or life-altering kind: a cancer diagnosis, the death of a close relative, a psychological breakdown.

Um, no. The older woman, Judy (Caroline Aaron), is merely referring to the arduous, nerve-rattling process of obtaining a place in one of Manhattan's exclusive and expensive private schools for the 4-year-old son of Alex (Carla Gugino), the anxious mother at the center of "A Kid Like Jake," a new play by Daniel Pearle that opened on Monday night at the Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center.

Mr. Pearle's smart, fluent drama is not, I am relieved to report, merely a study of the harrowing process by which well-heeled New Yorkers scheme and scramble and implore the gods - and the gatekeepers - to win their children admission to rarefied sanctums with names like Dalton and Calhoun. (The subject might lend itself to a nifty comedy, although the details revealed here suggest that even the lunacies of absurdism couldn't touch the actual truth.)

Even as they are caught up in the elaborate process of vetting, or rather being vetted, Alex and her husband, Greg (Peter Grosz), are trying to calibrate their responses to the behavior of their son. Jake's intelligence and active imagination have helped him win heady scores on the tests that are one of the many criteria by which the tiny tots of the rich are evaluated. But he's also expressed a preference for what Judy, the proprietor of his preschool who is advising Alex and Greg on their search, delicately describes as "gender-variant play."

When Halloween rolls around, Jake curls his little lip at the idea of wearing a pirate or a skeleton outfit. In one of the play's funniest lines, Greg describes Jake (who remains unseen) dismissing these standard-issue get-ups as "lazy": he wants to go trick-or-treating in the puffy sleeves and long gown of Snow White. His imaginative life revolves around Disney princesses, and his fondness for Cinderella has become a virtual obsession.

In Alex and Greg's evolving responses to their son's unusual inclinations - and what they may or may not imply about his future sexual identity - Mr. Pearle has found an intriguing subject of real currency, and one that stirs our natural sympathy. And with the ever-excellent Ms. Gugino and Mr. Grosz giving layered, honest performances in the central roles, "A Kid Like Jake" mostly keeps us engrossed.

Subverting expectations, Mr. Pearle reveals Alex as the parent with unspoken discomfort at Jake's tendency to favor toys and games normally considered the exclusive province of little girls. Judy, played with a fine combination of grit and sensitivity by Ms. Aaron, gently suggests that, given the highly competitive market, Alex and Greg might actually want to emphasize what makes Jake "special."

"This kind of strategizing, it's sickening," Judy says, "but I think you might be able to capitalize on it. Because they're looking for kids - and families - that stand out."

But while Alex is happy to indulge her son's affinities at home, she feels a prickly unease at the idea of exposing them to public scrutiny. Lurking underneath the love and desire to protect him is perhaps more than a little secret wishing that Cinderella will one day be replaced by a more traditional role model.

"You're making the assumption that he'll never grow out of this," Alex angrily says in a later meeting with Judy. "I'm sorry, but there is such a thing as a phase."

Greg, a therapist, feels more exasperated at Alex's fretting than he is at what he sees as a plain fact about their son that can't be denied. "He's not exactly Johnny Basketball," Greg says, trying to lighten increasingly fraught discussions. Under the pressure of his mother's anxiety (amplified by her new pregnancy), Jake begins "acting out" in encounters with other children.

Later, when the tensions between Greg and Alex have reached an agonizing pitch, and the strains of Alex's difficult pregnancy and the problems with Jake have exposed old rifts in their relationship, Alex will turn Greg's lighthearted comment into a weapon: "I mean, it's not like you've ever taken him to the park or thrown a ball in his direction," she says savagely, after making an even meaner reference to a father-son manicure date.

Under the smooth direction of Evan Cabnet, Ms. Gugino, a superlative stage actress, brings a simmering intensity to her performance, managing to render human even Alex's sometimes implausible excesses of vitriol. Mr. Grosz, perhaps best known for his comedic appearances on "The Colbert Report," does a nice job with the perhaps slightly idealized, über-mensch role of the nurturing Greg.

But the endless wrangling over Jake's test scores and his play visits to the various schools often seem to draw focus from what should be the play's primary subject: how his parents can, or should, raise a kid like Jake.

Will indulging his fantasies cause more harm in the long run? Are parents like Alex and Greg, educated and intelligent and forward-thinking when it comes to matters of sexuality, really entirely at ease with the possibility that their son may be homosexual, or possibly even transgender? These subjects arise, but are often subsumed again by discussions of Jake's behavioral issues, or disappointing news on the school front, or unrelated issues in their marriage.

It is hard, after a while, not to feel some exasperation at the Sturm und Drang surrounding Jake's imminent future. Aside from those with the deep pockets to engage in the blood sport of private-school wrangling, who really cares about the process? Alex's agonized fear that Jake may end up having to attend public school - oh, the horror! - will not exactly endear her (or the play) to anyone facing more earthbound problems. Which is to say, a vast majority of Americans - even a vast majority of New Yorkers.

Time Out New York

Adam Feldman

A Kid Like Jake

A bright and imaginative four-year-old, Jake is on the brink of "transitioning" to kindergarten, and his mother, Alex (Gugino), is bent on securing a slot at one of New York's dozen most exclusive private schools. But she is reluctant to deal with one key aspect of his emerging personality: that he likes to play with dolls and dress up like a princess. Judy (Aaron), an expert at navigating the application process, advises her to highlight Jake's "gender-variant play" as a selling point, but Alex worries about defining her son's identity so early. And Jake, with the inconvenient timing of the very young, has begun misbehaving in classroom and play situations. Protogay or not, why is he acting out?

Daniel Pearle's A Kid Like Jake is a searching, keenly perceptive look at how the nature-versus-nurture question can play out on the front lines of tolerance today. It is essentially Alex's story (Jake never appears onstage), and Gugino plays her with a fierce will colored with fear of losing control-or of never having had it to begin with. In Evan Cabnet's skillfully acted, quietly absorbing production for LCT3, the greatest pleasures are in the details: the exactness of Pearle's dialogue, the slow boil of denial and resentment, the thin fissures between Alex and her therapist husband, Greg (Grosz). A Kid Like Jake makes a late push against the constraints of straight naturalism, and one may wish that it went wider earlier. But if the piece doesn't burst out of its issue-play limits, it echoes resonantly within them.


David Gordon

A Kid Like Jake

This imperfect but impressive drama by Daniel Pearle features heartbreaking performances from Carla Gugino and Peter Grosz.

Dramas about parents and their children are nothing new to the entertainment canon. On television there's currently a long-running, acclaimed drama called Parenthood that deals with the subject matter, as did The Cosby Show, Leave it to Beaver, and so on; in theater, it ranges from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Matilda the Musical. How refreshing, then, that the young playwright Daniel Pearle has found an intriguing way to tell a story about two parents and their young son in a way that has not been explored. The result is a flawed but otherwise accomplished drama called A Kid Like Jake, now making its premiere in a sumptuous production at LCT3's Claire Tow Theater under the direction of Evan Cabnet.

Jake is four, and he's everything parents could want: smart, inquisitive, and precocious, with gifts for art, and a wild imagination. He's also enamored with Cinderella and wants to dress as Snow White for Halloween. For his parents, lawyer-turned-stay-at-home-mom Alex (Carla Gugino) and therapist dad Greg (Peter Grosz), these are just childhood flights of fancy, until the couple begins to see how their son's struggle with gender is harming him in ways he doesn't have the verbiage to express.

How they deal, amidst Jake's private-school application process, forms the heart of this frank and refreshingly untidy look at contemporary parenting. In the tradition of the Greeks, most of the action takes place off stage: Jake is never seen and we only hear about incidents described by his parents and preschool principal (the dignified Caroline Aaron). Usually the phrase "show, don't tell" comes into play, but through Pearle's vivid, wrenching dialogue, it's as though Jake is right there in front of us.

Alex and Greg both want what's best for their son, but like most if not all parents placed in this situation, they don't know exactly how to react. Is it the result of stress stemming from interviews at hoi polloi schools like Dalton and Trinity? Should they put him therapy? Should they ignore it and hope it goes away? There are no easy answers, and most importantly, Pearle doesn't pick sides. Alex and Greg are equally flawed, equally confused, and equally at wit's end. In short, they are human, and as played by the nuanced Gugino and Grosz, these parents register as such in the best discomforting degree possible.

A thoroughly naturalistic work with a versatile set by Andromache Chalfant, the play derails right after the climax when Pearle takes an unnecessary detour into a dream sequence between Alex and her nurse (Michelle Beck) that attempts to make things right. It is the only time you see the hand of director Cabnet, whose work, up to that point, has been thoroughly invisible. In a play that is so striking for not taking the easy way out, this attempt to tie a bow is especially frustrating.

Still, we can forgive Daniel Pearle. A Kid Like Jake proves he is a playwright to watch for.

New York Daily News

Joe Dziemianowicz

'A Kid Like Jake': Theater review

Tale of parents trying to get son into private school adds a dash of gender-identity crisis

Whatever happened to the joys of parenting?

"A Kid Like Jake" births more angst than bliss at LCT3 - Lincoln Center's incubator for young writers.

Daniel Pearle's thoughtful but overstuffed drama follows a Manhattan couple as they struggle to get their 4-year-old son Jake into the right private school.

Oh, another one of those familiar New York stories.

But not so fast. It soon comes out that never-seen Jake totally adores Cinderella - including dressing up like the fairy-tale heroine. Nothing like a dash of gender-identity crisis to stir the pot.

Dancer-turned-lawyer-turned-full-time mom Alex (played by a wonderfully nuanced Carla Gugino) spearheads the soul-sucking application process with unblinking - and, at times unlikable - focus. Liberal therapist dad Greg (Peter Grosz) stays in the background, until family friend and guidance counselor Judy (Caroline Aaron) suggests that Jake's "gender-variant" predilection may actually be an asset for some diversity-friendly elite schools.

And, as is always the case for parents, there are more worries on the way.

Over the play's 100 minutes, Pearle - who won the Laurents/Hatcher prize for emerging authors for this work - displays a fine-tuned ear for conversational dialogue and wisely resists trying to wrap up his complicated story with a pretty bow.

Director Evan Cabnet's cast and production impress. Staged on one set, "A Kid Like Jake," which opened Monday, cannily changes locations from home to school to doctor's office, with simple lighting shifts.

At a point, however, Pearle layers on enough twists to turn the focus hazy. He also tucks in an 11th-hour fantasy scene between Alex and a nurse (Michelle Beck) that throws his carefully built slice of realism off-kilter. With so much going on at once, it's a play that might benefit from another draft - or a timeout.


Marilyn Stasio

Legit Review: 'A Kid Like Jake'

Even with a top-flight production from Lincoln Center Theater, Daniel Pearle's play needs work

Talk about shows that appeal to niche audiences! Daniel Pearle's new play, "A Kid Like Jake," should captivate yuppie parents from upscale urban neighborhoods who are obsessed with getting their little darlings into prestigious private kindergartens that cost $40,000 a year. This talky domestic drama also has a lock on anyone with a 4-year-old kid who displays transgender behavior. Playgoers outside these narrow demographics might reel back in horror from this scary spectacle of parental insanity.

This "Kid" came out of LCT3, the developmental production wing that Lincoln Center Theater recently installed in its handsome new rooftop theater, which means that there are no flies on this production.

Helmer Evan Cabnet comes to the project with beaucoup experience developing new plays; a cast of pros shows technical savvy at working with untested material; and a smart design team makes efficient use of the modest stage space. Faced with the challenge of establishing a context for multiple short scenes, lighting designer Japhy Weideman came up with the clever notion of quick-shifting the colored gels trained on a large painting dominating the set.

Carla Gugino, who held her own with stage royalty Rosemary Harris and Jim Dale in "Road to Mecca," puts herself through hell to reach the troubled heart of her character, a young mother named Alex who gave up a legal career to be the perfect mom to her 4-year-old son, Jake, and is now desperate to get the kid into a top-tier Manhattan kindergarten.

How desperate? Desperate enough to send out applications months in advance. Desperate enough to hang on the word of the placement adviser at Jake's fancy preschool. Desperate enough to neglect her husband and abandon all the housekeeping chores. So desperate, in fact, that Gugino deserves a medal for finding subtle ways of humanizing and earning a bit of sympathy for a monomaniacal character whose obsessive behavior escalates to a point that she becomes unbearable to watch.

Alex's husband, Greg, is a clinical psychologist, and Peter Grosz strikes the appropriate stance of a supportive shrink with the infinite patience to put up with crazy human behavior. (He even looks the weedy part in the drab outfits designed by Jessica Wegener Shay.) But for a mental health professional, Greg is far too indulgent of Alex's increasing agitation about getting her spoiled-rotten child into the right kindergarten.

Neither one of these solicitous parents seems to know how to deal with the other matter hanging over Jake's head - his enthusiasm for "gender variant play" like dressing up in girly dresses and playing all the princesses in Disney movies.

Alex and Greg had always indulged the quirky behavior of their artistic child. But it becomes an issue when their friend Judy, the know-it-all placement counselor played with grand panache by Caroline Aaron, advises Alex to highlight Jake's "special" quality in his school applications. That's all it takes for the kid to start acting out in school and behaving badly in his kindergarten school interviews.

There are good reasons that Pearle scoops up foundation grants and can place his plays in developmental workshops: He has interesting ideas and he writes well. But "A Kid Like Jake" has problems to work out before it can find its way onto a broader stage.

For one thing, the anxiety level in this household is pitched much too high at the top of the show. Instead of opening in some emotionally neutral zone where Alex's angst can gradually build into a full-blown obsession, the play opens with her already on the edge of hysteria. That initial misstep leads to increasingly shrill and repetitive complaints that cost Alex dearly in audience sympathy - and add an unnecessary quarter-hour or more to the running time.

Pearle also makes the mistake of waiting for Last Call before he comes across with some insightful character revelations. By the time he gets around to dropping some hints about how Alex's own childhood traumas might have left their mark on her son, no one on stage (or in the audience) has any energy left to play this game.

New York Post

Elisabeth Vincentelli

He prefers pink

Greg and Alex are a happily married Manhattan couple with a 4-year-old son. Jake is smart, creative - and he loves pretending to be a princess.

"We've got seven different Cinderella DVDs," Alex (Carla Gugino) reminds her husband (Peter Grosz), who seems unfazed. "The Disney version, the Rodgers and Hammerstein, even the one with Brandy."

They aren't worried about Jake's taste for sequined gowns - until it's time to send him to preschool.

The first half of Daniel Pearle's polished new dramedy "A Kid Like Jake" is dominated by Greg and Alex's efforts to get their son - whom we never see - into a private school. Alex, who quit her job as a lawyer to be a full-time mom, plans every detail like Dwight D. Eisenhower mapping Allied movements in WWII.

Considering the fierce competition from equally gung-ho families, she's got her work cut out for her, including prepping Jake for interviews and agonizing over his test scores.

Alex's friend Judy (Caroline Aaron), who runs a school, suggests bringing up Jake's "gender-variant play" in the application essay.

"Let's be honest, Jake is very special," Judy says. "I think you might be able to capitalize on it. Because they're looking for kids - and families - that stand out."

Gugino and Aaron are a lot of fun to watch in those scenes, each one making the most of a distinctive voice - the first's low and sexy, the second's a smoker's rasp. It's also nice to see the vibrant Gugino in a new play, since her previous stage work had been in revivals like "After the Fall" and "Desire Under the Elms."

You only wish Pearle had given them chewier material. The subject is sensitively handled - maybe too sensitively. This is a common issue with LCT3, a company that seems to increasingly focus on "issue plays" like this one and the 2013 Pulitzer winner "Disgraced," about religion and politics.

Still, the show, smoothly directed by Evan Cabnet, is full of perceptive details about the intense world of affluent parenting, where every child is gifted and the struggle for dominance begins at home.

After Greg takes Jake out for fast food, Alex explodes. "Childhood associations are incredibly powerful," she tells him. "If he associates McDonald's with breaking Mommy's rules, it's gonna enhance the experience and his whole life he's gonna crave it."

Guess Big Macs won't figure in Jake's application - in this world, they're more damning for a boy than being obsessed with Cinderella.

Huffington Post

Mark O'Connell

The Many Mothers of Cinderella Boy: A Review of A Kid Like Jake

What if Cinderella attended the wrong ball? What if she'd been asked to catch a ball (instead of dance) and was ridiculed when she refused? What if Cinderella were a 4-year-old boy named Jake whose parents desperately want him to get into an elite private school?

These are among the questions raised by the new play A Kid Like Jake, which opened Monday, June 17, at Lincoln Center. Like most non-musicals in New York City these days, the context here is contemporary, upper-middle-class "white people" problems. However, unlike several of its peer productions, which feature myopic, sterile conflicts of the "to sip cocktails or not to sip cocktails?" variety, the stakes here are high and broadly relevant: namely, how does one effectively parent a gender-nonconforming boy in the face of norms wickeder than a fairy-tale stepmother?

The play opens much like the Cinderella story, with a mother plotting anxiously to secure her child's "royal" status, and therefore her own; in this case, status means enrollment in a fancy private school. Though we never meet the child in question, Jake, we learn right away that princesses inspire his play, and that his parents seem more than cool with that (e.g., buying him every princess doll, book, and movie on the planet), hence the central question of the play: Can Jake's parents be progressively attuned to his unique sense of self and be status-quo/status-hungry at the same time? In other words, can this be achieved without Cinderella's mother becoming her evil stepmother?

When Jake's mother, Alex (played with fierce, empathic conviction by Carla Gugino), meets with the principal of his preschool, Judy (a sharp and dropped-in Caroline Aaron), for advice on gaining admission to a top-tier grade school ("the ball"), the plot becomes more complicated. Is Judy a fairy godmother, and if so, whose: Jake's or Alex's? Judy is highly attuned to Jake, including his "gender-variant play," which she explicitly names and encourages Alex to make use of in school application essays. But Alex shudders at the words, apparently having dissociated from the princess-play she has been encouraging and participating in at home. Instead, Alex pleads with Judy to use her "magic" connections (and discreteness) to squeeze Jake into the best possible school by underplaying his gender variance.

As the school interviews commence and Jake is encouraged to contort his behaviors, he becomes aggressive, acting out some of the more violent moments from the Grimms' Cinderella story: drawing bloody pictures of the stepmother as she cuts her daughters' feet to fit the glass slipper. Of course, this instigates a cycle of rage as Jake fails to get into many of the schools, exacerbating Alex's disappointment and frustration and leading her to become more and more controlling ("wicked") as the play progresses.

And then something unexpected happens: The playwright gives us access to Alex's inner life by way of a dream sequence. We begin to understand her as someone who has confronted the pressures to give up her own "girly play" in order to gain status. We learn that she worked as a lawyer before choosing to raise Jake full-time, and that the fear of failure has always pervaded her life. We begin to appreciate the many hours she spent alone raising Jake, in a fantastic play space she created for them, where each of their "girly" desires could safely, mutually expand and not be shunned -- where each of them could be Cinderella. We also recognize the great loss they both share when the clock strikes midnight, the carriage becomes a pumpkin, and social norms reclaim them.

A similar mother/son dilemma appears in psychoanalyst Ken Corbett's book Boyhoods: Reclaiming Masculinities. Corbett describes his work with a gender-nonconforming boy and his mother, who accepted his "girly play" but struggled with his need to be "pushy" about it, often saying, "Everything is princess this, and princess that." Corbett eventually helped the mother address her ambivalence about "girly play," locate her own childhood "pleasures of exhibitionism" and "being the object of desire," and identify the shame she learned to link with those pleasures (i.e., the pressure she felt to conceal those desires and contort herself so as to gain respect and status in a man's world). As an alternative to modeling this anxiety and shame for her son, Corbett helped the mother create a reflective space (rather than a punitive one) in which they could talk about the dilemmas they faced together. Fortunately, by the end of A Kid Like Jake, Jake and Alex seem to be on a similar trajectory toward reflection and understanding.

As much as we may cringe at yet another play about wealthy New Yorkers, not only does A Kid Like Jake present a more thrilling premise than most, but the core conflict is also arguably enhanced by the privileged setting. The dilemma of wanting to be a boastful, proud, attuned parent of a fully self-expressed child while also wanting to be the boastful, proud, disciplined parent of a private-school enrollee is a high-stakes conflict of interests faced by those who can afford it. Though various dilemmas regarding the parenting of gender-variant children in public vs. private settings take place in all our communities, watching class-conscious parents negotiate the advantages of conformity vs. nonconformity is particularly theatrical. It also challenges us to consider our own parenting values when faced with questions of our children's mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

The more stories of gender-variant children that we share on our stages and screens, and the more conversations we have about the various challenges gender variance presents, the more safe, reflective spaces we can offer "princess boys" and their families, in all our communities, not only in New York City's wealthiest.

In the meantime, give yourself 115 minutes of reflective space on these issues by seeing A Kid Like Jake.


Scott Brown

The Stage Dive Weekend Review: A Kid Like Jake

Oh, Carla Gugino: We don't see nearly enough of you ’round these parts. In Daniel Pearle's sturdy, stunningly well-observed kitchen-sink drama, she plays Alex, a typically neurotic upper-middle-class parent with a somewhat atypical dilemma: Her 4-year-old son Jake — on the threshold of that humiliating and barbaric New York City ritual known as the private K-12 application process — has begun to enjoy what Judy, his preschool principal (Caroline Aaron), joyfully refers to as "gender variant play." Not only does she see nothing wrong with Jake's preference for dresses and his obsession with Disney princesses, she sees an opportunity: "This kind of strategizing, it's sickening, I know, but I think you might be able to capitalize on it. Because they're looking for kids — and families — that stand out."

But Alex isn't so thrilled about Jake's uniqueness, and not because she's a garden-variety homophobe. She's deeply, even pathologically, invested in the idea of him as a clean slate. Her clean slate. And so begins a degenerative battle of wills among three committedly progressive people: Alex, Judy, and Alex's husband, Greg (Peter Grosz, nailing the plight of the Gotham beta-male in every tiny stammer). Pearle flirts with melodrama but ends up swinging his sledgehammer very daintily, and director Evan Cabnet walks the line soberly, encouraging his actors neither to shy away from nor give themselves bodily to the faint Lifetime network background radiation that's always detectable but never overwhelming. None of this would work, of course, if Gugino weren't delivering such a brutally nuanced performance — every nerve attenuated, every square inch of her frighteningly engaged — of a helicopter parent with a bird's-eye view of everything except the immovably obvious.


Naveen Kumar

'A Kid Like Jake' Opens Off Broadway at LCT3: REVIEW

Playwright Daniel Pearle's new play about a young couple whose 4-year-old son Jake enjoys playing princess at playtime opened Off Broadway last week in a Lincoln Center Theatre production at the Claire Tow theatre.

As an ex-lawyer turned stay at home Mom and a practicing therapist, Alex (Carla Gugino) and Greg's (Peter Grosz) approach to parenting is perhaps more than commonly heady and self-analytical. While they're relatively supportive of Jake's ‘gender variant play' (as his pre-school counselor deems it), their true feelings are put to the test as they navigate the application process for Jake to attend Manhattan private school.

Jake's pre-school counselor and friend of the family Judy (Caroline Aaron) suggests Alex call attention to her son's unique behavior in their applications, as something that may be attractive to progressive schools with an eye for diverse student bodies. As Jake's behavior evolves over the course of the play, the question of which sort of body he actually wants to live in becomes more pressing.

Jake's favorite fairytale, Cinderella, is rich with associations relevant to Pearle's drama. Grimm's story touches on both the power of transformation in outward appearance, and the pain of forcing the body into artificial constraints, like a shoe that doesn't fit. (In a somewhat on the nose moment of child psychologizing, Judy and Greg examine Jake's drawing of the bloody scene in which Cinderella's stepmother mutilates her daughter's foot to fit the glass slipper.)

Pearle's play offers much food for thought in examining the indoctrination of binary gender norms during childhood development. Alex and Greg's acceptance of Jake's choices in gender expression at home is only one aspect of the story. When it comes to introducing his behavior to friends and neighbors or setting it to paper in application essays, Alex in particular struggles with how unconventional labels might affect him, as well as her own somewhat veiled hope that it's just a phase.

Jake remains unseen throughout, in line with how much of child behavior is recounted in stories-from teachers to parents, from one parent to another-rather than directly witnessed. Though consequently the play, set across various interiors including the couple's apartment, Judy's office, and a doctor's waiting room, has more he-said she-said dialogue than compelling stage action.

Director Evan Cabnet elicits fine performances from the small company, particularly Ms. Gugino (Desire Under the Elms, After the Fall) as frayed and determined Alex.

Though the fraught private school application process drives the play's momentum, Pearle's examination of responses to gender variant behavior is certainly the heart of his drama-since the former is only of genuine interest to a very elite few.

Entertainment Weekly

Melissa Rose Bernardo

A Kid Like Jake

In a way, A Kid Like Jake - Daniel Pearle's inventive new drama Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center's Claire Tow Theater - is one of those only-in-New-York plays. Parents obsessing over super-competitive private-school applications, jockeying to get their child into the best kindergarten program; names like Dalton, Trinity, Trevor Day, City and Country, St. Ann's, and Ethical Culture spoken in reverent, hushed tones; a throwaway reference to $30,000 preschool tuition. (If ever there was a backhanded endorsement for public schools, this is it. Mayor Bloomberg owes Pearle a big thank-you.)

Yet here, Pearle throws a dramatic wrench into the frightening pre-K process: 4-year-old Jake "likes girl stuff," explains his mother, Alex (Carla Gugino, in a wrenching, beautifully shaded performance). Preschool supervisor Judy (Caroline Aaron) calls it "gender-variant play." Judy wants to capitalize on Jake's fascination with fairy tales - "these schools are looking for diverse classes"; Alex wants to gloss over it; dad Greg (Peter Grosz) wants to send him to therapy - not a surprise, since Greg is a therapist himself. We never see or hear Jake, which is actually a brilliant choice on Pearle's part. Even though the parents' relationship - and all its flaws - comes to the forefront, it's Jake who emerges as the main character.

With all the talk of the Little Mermaid, Rapunzel, and Cinderella (Jake's favorite - the family has seven DVDs, "even the one with Brandy," sighs Alex), clearly the playwright is gunning for a happy ending. And if anyone deserves one, isn't it a "special" kid like Jake? The plot suffers a few casualties along the way: Alex's character devolves into a caricature of a shrewish wife; the couple confronts a predictable, oh-so-conveniently-timed health crisis; and the less said of the afterthought-like final scene the better. It takes some of the luster off of Pearle's burnished urban fairy tale. B+