BWW Interview: Playwright Daniel Pearle on A KID LIKE JAKE at LCT3, the 'Fearless' Carla Gugino, & Theater's Role in Political Discussions
Daniel Pearle, 28, has gone from graduate student to produced playwright in just over the course of a year. From The New School, to London's Old Vic, and now to Lincoln Center's Claire Tow Theatre, Pearle's A KID LIKE JAKE, an intimate, character-driven drama about a couple's journey to do what's right for their gender nonconforming son, has found its summer stage - with Carla Gugino leading the cast as the passionate, forceful mother 'Alex.'
BroadwayWorld was fortunate enough to get the chance to chat with Pearle last week - check out what he had to say on the creative process, his admiration for Gugino, and what role he thinks theater should play in social and political discussions below!
First of all, congratulations on A KID LIKE JAKE. And thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today!
Oh, thank you. Thank you so much!
Looking back, where did your inspiration for the show come from?
The original idea came from an article I read about gender nonconforming children and the different arguments being raised in the last 5 or 10 years by parents in New York or L.A. - where I grew up. The studies, the conversations, and the terminology have changed so fast. In a way, that's so great, but in a lot of ways, it makes it more complicated. People become more and more labeled, and I'm always struck by the fact that we live in a culture that has a very hard time with uncertainty or what's unknowable.
I also tutor high school kids in Manhattan that are going through college essays and test prep. I'm always struck by just how comparable and really genuinely fraught it becomes for parents when they're trying to push their kids off in the world. It brings questions and feelings up when they're trying to do everything they can for their children - it can bring out the best and the worst. I don't have kids myself - that's always terrified me (laughs) - but I think it's always good to write about things that scare the crap out of you.
Jake never makes an appearance in the show - there's some mystery in that. Did you ever consider otherwise?
You know, not really. I think because I knew very early on that I was writing about a couple interpreting a child's behavior, and trying to show the mystery. To me, that's always more compelling. All the accounts we're having of the child are secondhand. I think it would be hard to bring him on stage without taking away some of the ambiguity of the piece. There were times along the way when I worried if it was unsatisfying for an audience to try and care about this kid that they'll never see. But, at its core, the play is really about a mother and about a marriage. It's about two people dealing with their child, and what happens to their marriage along the way when trying to decide what's best for their child.
What was the creative process on bringing A KID LIKE JAKE to the stage like?
I began writing the play when I was still in graduate school. At first it was just this idea about parents raising a child with gender identification questions. I wrote the first draft over four weeks up in an artist colony, and studied not just the private school application process, but the current debates on gender also. Then I spent the next four months writing subsequent drafts and rewriting.
There was a time when I hit a point and knew I couldn't do anything more without actually hearing it performed by actors. Luckily I got a student production at The New School for Drama about a year-and-a-half ago, and it was chosen for a stage reading at The Old Vic in London last summer. Then we had several developmental readings.
So during that time, I was just rethinking and rewriting and exploring certain aspects of the play. It's always helpful to hear what different actors can bring to a character-driven piece. You can tinker forever (laughs) - we're lucky to have amazing actors that allow you to explore little things. It's really exciting.
The entire cast is phenomenal. What's it like having Carla Gugino lead this play that you've worked on for so long?
I mean, it's amazing! (Laughs.) It's totally surreal. I was a big fan of her work even before. I'd seen her on stage - and film and TV, of course. It's just so crazy!
Not only is she talented, but she also happens to be incredibly smart and generous - she's the best possible collaborator. She has tons of ideas that she brings to the story and to Alex's life. She is fearless. And I really do appreciate that.
I've seen the cast do [the show] twenty times, and I'm always amazed that I can still watch it! It's a dream. I feel incredibly spoiled. (laughs)
It must feel unreal.
Oh, yeah! It feels very unreal. (laughs)
A KID LIKE JAKE obviously tackles a very controversial and personal issue. What role do you think theater - or the arts - should play in the discussion of political and social issues?
That's a really good question. I think theatre is a place in which the things that don't have easy, tidy answers can be explored. Anytime there's an issue, whether it's personal or political, and everybody thinks they're right, there's a chance for a good dramatic piece: something that starts or contributes to a conversation. Most people, even those you love, have a different version of reality - no one's perspective is the end-all-be-all. Some things in the world, I think, are just outside of one's ability to understand. I think we have to recognize that.
A KID LIKE JAKE is the story of a husband and wife trying to do right by their son. Alex (Carla Gugino) and her husband, Greg (Peter Grosz), want only the best for their precocious four year old, Jake. When they apply to New York City private schools, part of what makes Jake special - his passion for Cinderella and dress-up - starts to cause concern.
A KID LIKE JAKE is performed Monday and Wednesday through Sunday evenings at 7pm, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm at the Claire Tow Theater, 150 West 65 Street. Tickets, priced at $20 for all performances, are available at the Lincoln Center Theater box office, telecharge.com or at lct3.org.
Daniel Pearle Headshot by Christian Coulson; Production Shots by Erin Baiano