In their latest production, “A Kid Like Jake,” the Richmond Triangle Players offer up a family drama about acceptance, understanding and parents’ struggle to let go of the idea that they can or should control their child’s identity.
Alex and Greg are the parents of Jake, a boy who while very young exhibits gender-variant behavior. Preoccupied with private school applications and finding the right place for their son to grow and learn, both Alex and Greg hold meetings with Judy, the director of his current preschool, to discuss Jake and his future.
Daniel Pearle’s script is dry and didactic, making the drama hardly compelling. Watching these three characters stand around discussing a child whom we never meet is boring — and it’s bad storytelling. Some scenes, especially early ones, verge on condescending as the characters overuse certain terms, suggesting that a vocabulary lesson — not dramatic significance — is the main driver. It’s also an oddly privileged perspective on the issue.
Alex and Greg are wealthy white Manhattanites with good jobs and parents who intend to help pay for Jake’s private-school education. The characters’ issues seem to stem from a preoccupation with image, not their son’s gender expression or any real danger he may one day encounter — and the result is less-than-compelling drama.
The play does demonstrate the complicated emotions a parent may have about their child, but not in a way that makes the audience care much. No matter what happens, Jake is going to go to school somewhere, and there are at least three adults who are trying to support him. But the stakes are too low in this narrative and the characters too unlikable for any of the drama to land.
“A Kid Like Jake” feels less like a play and more like a staged discussion meant to explore and inform privileged audiences about gender nonconformity. But it fails even there.
Some of the production design choices are odd and superficial, with a childlike aesthetic. Andrew Bonniwell’s lighting design favors primary colors, and designer T. Ross Aitken’s set, composed of various smaller stages in different shapes, colors and levels, is reminiscent of a pile of children’s building blocks. The sound design, by Lucian Restivo, includes twinkly lullabies to punctuate each scene.
The whole scheme screams that this is a play about a child, but that isn’t really the case. It isn’t about Jake or any other kid like him. It’s a play about parents with hang-ups, and the design choices feel like weird, misplaced gimmicks.
Keith Fitzgerald’s direction makes good use of the stage, and I think the scenes are generally well composed. But most of the acting is stiff, and there aren’t many moments that manage to feel real and immediate. Indeed, these characters are barely relatable, so it bears mentioning that the actors do have their work cut out for them. But the performances fail to locate and embody the inner truth that must lie at the core of every character.
Of course, there is some merit to every production. For the right audience, “A Kid Like Jake,” could achieve exactly what it intends: It may give a privileged, naive person who has never given much thought to a situation like this one a new perspective.
But I suspect that most audiences will feel distanced from the material given how narrow that particular perspective is. S
“A Kid Like Jake” runs from April 19 to May 13 at the Richmond Triangle Players Theater, 1300 Altamont Ave. rtriangle.org.