The gap in knowledge between parents and their children may have never been trickier to navigate than it is today. While it’s now widely accepted that one’s gender is not necessarily determined by one’s sex, we’re still right smack dab in the middle of figuring out how this affects various social institutions, and the hyper-politicized battles we’re having across the country and right here in Dallas/Fort Worth, such as who should be able to use which restroom facility, aren’t helping to foster either civil conversation or rational thinking.
What gets lost in all of these abstract political battles — unless you happen to be directly engaged in one yourself, in which case, our hats are off to you — is the affect on the individuals engaged in the very difficult and personal decision-making concerning either themselves or a loved one. And there is perhaps no one more confused at how to handle the new normal than parents of small children.
Second Thought Theatre’s artistic director Alex Organ and his creative team decided to produce Daniel Pearle’s play A Kid Like Jake long before all of this bathroom nonsense became such a contentious issue in Texas, but the production, which opens this weekend, is shaping up to be more timely than he could have imagined.
A Kid Like Jake chronicles the drama of Alex and Greg, played by Jenny Ledel and Ian Ferguson respectively, two parents fighting desperately to ensure their 4-year-old son Jake receives the best education possible. The only problem? Jake isn’t “normal." Well, at least he isn’t what the prestigious private schools they’re attempting to gain access to consider normal; he prefers Cinderella to GI Joe and likes to dress up as a girl. What's a parent to do?
The play that follows is consumed with exploring exactly that, how Alex and Greg, a typical, albeit upper middle-class couple, deal with the very public debate concerning gender in a very personal way.
“The play is actually not about Jake,” Director Matthew Gray tells me. “It’s specifically about his mother. If you really dig deep it’s about her attempting to validate herself.”
Over the course of the play, we watch Alex encounter first-hand the timeless debate over nature vs. nurture: Did her past affect how she brought up her son? How does that explain his behavior? Does it? Does it matter?
The play also tackles the politicization of the issue through the character of Judy, played by Christie Vela, the parent’s unofficial adviser on all things private school who may or may not recommend the couple play up Jake’s differences as a way to differentiate his application. But how early is too early to have this conversation with a child and to make a decision?
Concerning these questions and more, the play is ambiguous. “That’s the beauty of it,” Gray says. “The play itself is not going to take a stand for anyone.”
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Sure, everyone in the play is super liberal, there’s no one who disagrees with gender nonconformity, “but the moral of the story is not ‘transgender kids are OK,’” Gray continues. “By the end of the play we don’t know if Jake is transgender. It’s no coincidence that Jake isn’t on stage. The point of the play is that you don’t have to have that answer, it’s that you have to listen.”
Perhaps it’s also that right now, there isn’t really any answer.
In the highly divisive settings in which conversations about gender identification and gender fluidity generally take place, encountering more and more art that realistically humanizes the actual people facing this newly public dilemma is important. The lack of moralizing or resolution is also important; it encourages us to listen to each other, and reinforces the lack of easy answers and the rampant ambiguity.
A Kid Like Jake opens July 1 and runs through July 23 at Bryant Hall (3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.) on the Kalita Humphreys campus. You can purchase tickets, $25, online at 2tt.co.