None Too Fragile’s “A Kid Like Jake” Intense, Smartly Written, Weighty with a Sense of Humor
By Marjorie Preston
None Too Fragile’s current production of “A Kid Like Jake” by Daniel Pearle gives voice to the private lives of the parents of New York City Pre-K student Jake as the couple struggles for acceptance into the über-competitive world of NYC private schools. The script is intense and smartly written, and although it addresses weighty subjects, there is humor suffused throughout.
New York City-based parents Alex (Rachel Lee Kolis) and Greg (Geoff Knox) are working with Jake’s preschool admissions coordinator Judy (Laura Starnik) to navigate their Pre-K student son Jake’s entry into the extremely competitive world of NYC private schools. As a side plot, Alex is newly pregnant following a previous miscarriage, and is balancing some concern for her health, whereupon we meet a Nurse (Katie Wells) who, in a dual role, returns in a dream sequence to discuss Cinderella.
Alex, a lawyer turned stay-at-home-mom, has shifted all her attention to play dates and preparing Jake for tests and interviews for private schools. While Alex is hyper-focused on Kindy prep, Greg, a therapist, doesn’t get much time with his son or much affection from his wife. Their communications with each other are so focused on this transition for Jake, they have lost sight of caring for themselves and each other. It is when Judy mentions Jake’s “gender-variant play” outside their home that the couple begin to dig into unexplored feelings and unchallenged assumptions.
Kolis plays the all-too-familiar “mom trying to do it all” with strong commitment to the role. She plays mom Alex capably on an arc from concerned to anxious to full-blown anger and back down through despair. Knox commits equally well to his role, beginning as supportive, turning exasperated and then truly ugly as he scratches under the surface to regain some control of family decisions he had relinquished to his wife. Though very believable and strong actors, the script places them almost in separate worlds at this point in their lives, so they very rarely seem to be connecting as a couple.
The talented Starnik maintains her composure as a professional in a tense confrontational scene. Her body language and delivery make for a very realistic feel in the office of a woman who constantly deals with frantic parents. Wells is compassionate and smooth in her dual roles.
Director and Set Designer Sean Derry keeps the action moving, directing the close-knit group to talk over each other, indicating the interweaving of their lives as caretakers for such a special boy. A simple set utilizing rehearsal cubes is all that fits, though this quickens the pace of the set changes. Props are minimal and all costume changes take place in front of the back curtain, with actors changing in the blackouts. It’s interesting to watch, but may pull some audience members out of the story briefly. Sound Designer Brian Kenneth Armour’s ticking clocks, buzzing phones and Grey’s Anatomy-style slow jams about innocence and sacrifice add a sense of urgency and depth.
Preschool test prep and gender-variant play in children are definitely conversation sparkers. While audiences may disagree about their approach to the issues raised in this play, there is no doubt that None Too Fragile’s performance of “A Kid Like Jake” is superbly written, strongly acted and thought-provoking.
“A Kid Like Jake” runs through March 26, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sunday, 3/20 at 2:00 p.m., Monday 3/21 at 8:00 p.m. and Thursdays 3/17 and 3/24 at 8:00 p.m. at 1835 Merriman Road, Akron, Ohio. Entrance is through Pub Bricco. For tickets, call (330) 962-5547 or visit www.nonetoofragile.com. The play contains adult language and themes.