Did Daniel Pearle really mean to make Alex, the leading character of his new play A KID LIKE JAKE, such a repellent, unsympathetic character? His attempts to redeem her in the last five minutes of the play suggest not. Nonetheless, what we watch for an hour and forty-five minutes is a totally self-centered, manipulative woman. Alex gave up a career as a lawyer to be a full time mother. That hasn't gone too well. Her recent attempts at having a child have resulted in miscarriages. Her four year old son, Jake (unseen during the play), seems to have issues of gender confusion. More important, like his mother, he is selfish and aggressive. Alex and her long-suffering psychotherapist husband are trying to get Jake into a good private elementary school. For Alex, this is an obsession. She doesn't want to deal with Jake's behavioral problems because they might reflect badly on her. Jake may over-identify with Disney heroines like Cinderella and the little mermaid, but Alex gave him the books and dvds that piqued his interest. Greg, Alex's husband, tries to be the good liberal father who accepts his sons eccentricity. He also tries to avoid conflict with his wife until she goes too far over the line. Jake's problems cannot be solved because Alex makes any comment about Jake an attack on her.
The problem with A KID LIKE JAKE is that we see what a monster (I was very tempted to use the B word) Alex is in the first scene. Other scenes are merely repetitions of or variations on her defensiveness and aggression. Her husband is a nice guy, but why doesn't he take his son and get out of there? All one can say at the end of the overlong play is, "Poor Jake."
I have always liked Carla Gugino. Here, with died red hair (why?), she does the best she can, but no one can make us feel much but anger for her character. Peter Grosz is credible as her conflict-avoiding, somewhat masochistic husband. Caroline Aaron is excellent as Judy, the guidance counselor at Jake's pre-school, particularly in the scene in which Alex turns the full force of her hostility onto Judy when it is clear Jake is not going to get into one of the best schools.
After one-hundred minutes of realism, we are given a dream sequence that makes no sense at all. Clearly the playwright wanted us to feel something positive for Alex, but the abrupt shift in style and the conceit of the gynecologist's nurse becoming Jake simply do not work. Pearle also overuses Cinderella as a metaphor for Alex's frail self-image and its effect on Jake.
Good acting, clean direction, but why should we invest almost two hours of our lives watching a totally unpleasant character flail about. At least Ibsen's Hedda Gabler had the common decency to shoot herself at the end.
A KID LIKE JAKE. Claire Tow Theatre, Lincoln Center Theater. June 8, 2013.