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BWW Reviews: The Rep's Thoroughly Engaging A KID LIKE JAKE

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The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis open their Studio Theatre season with playwright Daniel Pearle's A Kid Like Jake, a layered and contemporary look at issues of gender identification as seen through the eyes of a pair of concerned parents, who are conflicted in their feelings about the dress up roles their preschool age son is drawn toward. It's an engaging and, in many ways, touching and sensitive production that's sure to spark a lot of positive conversation about the subject, and that makes it important enough in and of itself, but its also a work that makes you really care about these characters in a very raw and emotional way that is quite unexpected.

An upwardly mobile couple, Alex and Greg, are looking for just the right preschool for their son Jake. They rely heavily on his current instructor, Judy, but feel that she may be pushing her own agenda where their son is concerned. At least Alex feels that way, but then she's also discovered she's pregnant, and that's a daunting additional stress for her to undergo, especially considering her previous miscarriage. Pile on the fact that Jake is acting out at their "auditions" in ways that show off his special qualities, and which some more prestigious schools might take a dim view of. It's all coming to a head, and Greg and Alex are seeing their own relationship steering toward a breaking point.

Leigh Williams plays Alex with genuine concern, if typically overprotective. She's not sure whether Jake's behavior is just a phase he's going through, or a path he may be taking for life. Williams captures this inner turmoil, not just with her words, but in the tension that comes through in her performance. Alex Hanna is equally strong as her analytical husband, Greg. He sees the situation more as one they should approach through therapy, and deep down, he feels like his wife is doing more harm than good by trying to get Jake to hold back his natural inclinations. Susan Pellegrino makes Judy someone you would honestly put your faith in, because she seems to have a better grasp of reality. She's sympathetic and tough, but also assured and encouraging. Jacqueline Thompson neatly rounds out the cast as an understanding Nurse, who makes an interesting appearance in a dream sequence that occurs.

Seth Gordon's direction is just impeccable from start to finish. The tension is allowed to slowly build while the narrative unfolds, and the actors play it that way, without things getting out of hand too soon. That's particularly important with the story that's being told, and the characters that are involved. We're asked to empathize with people who actually have the money and wherewithal to be able to spend tens of thousands of dollars just so their child can experience an esteemed preschool. But, we care because the situation that encapsulates this whole story, Jake's unique behavior, is compelling material that asks us to ask important questions of ourselves.

Gianni Downs does absolutely wonderful work with a contemporary scenic design that easily transitions between settings, and Lou Birds costumes are simple and straightforward which fit the characters without drawing unnecessary attention. John Wylie's lighting nicely fits each location and mood, while Rusty Wandall's original music and sound design act to provide effective atmosphere for each scene.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' production of A Kid Like Jake is simply another example of expertly executed theatre by a company that brings fresh material like to our region on a regular basis. Don't miss this thought-provoking presentation! It plays through November 16, 2014 in the Studio Theatre of the Loretto-Hilton.

Photo Credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.


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