As they open their second season Benchmark Theatre Company is living up to their mission statement which reads in part,”…to stimulate conversations about the universal human experience and nourish the imaginative spirit of our community through thought-provoking productions,” The first production of the season, is also the first production in their new Lakewood home at 40 West Arts. If that location sounds familiar it is because the theater space is home to The Edge Theatre Company. Benchmark is mounting the regional premiere of Daniel Pearle’s A Kid Like Jake. This is even more exciting because the play has been adapted for the screen staring Jim Parsons Claire Danes, Priyanka Chopra, and Octavia Spencer. So Denver audiences get the chance to see Colorado actors in the roles first.
A KID LIKE JAKE BY DANIEL PEARLE
Alex and Greg have high hopes for their son Jake, a precocious four-year old who happens to prefer Cinderella to GI Joe. But when implications of choosing the right school for Jake come to the fore, his parents are forced to reconcile their aspirations for Jake with their identities as both parents and spouses.
Benchmark tapped Warren Sherrill to direct, and the cast includes Antonio Amadeo, Adrian Egolf, Martha Harmon Pardee, and Madison McKenzie Scott.
After the opening weekend I had a chance to have an email Q&A about the production.
EL: How did A Kid Like Jake become the choice to open the second Benchmark Theatre season?RR: The theme of our inaugural season was “Cultivation,” and we believed A Kid Like Jake was the perfect fit to kick off our sophomore year themed “Identity” because the story reveals how many different lenses we see ourselves through. We loved how Jake tackled the questions of how to be one’s true self as parents, spouses, educators and especially as children who are just beginning to understand the concept. We always ask ourselves, why tell this story? For us, Jake opens an important dialogue by asking its audience to reflect personally about how society shapes our thinking of who we should be and how we should raise our children to be, while pressing us to examine our own presumptions regarding gender identity. It also sympathetically portrays the fears we have in trying to provide our children with the best opportunities without imposing identities on them.
EL: Tell me about the importance of the “identity” choice for Benchmark at 40 West.
Director Warren Sherrill lead the company to all the story with sensitivity.
EL: This script could be seen as the story of a marriage, the story of parenting in certain environment, or several more themes, how did you see this story?
WS: I basically see the script as a modern story of parenting…with the important word being modern. I don’t think this story could have happened 50 or even 20 years ago, not because there weren’t the same issues but because the “acceptance” (and I use quotes carefully) is more prevalent…and not always, as we see in the play, in a positive way. These parents of today are facing the struggle of pigeonholing their child when they have worked so hard just to celebrate and embrace his creativity and imagination. We have come so far as a society (still have a long way to go) when it comes to understanding and open-mindedness but with that understanding and acceptance comes new challenges for parents and ultimately for children.
EL: What was the primary challenge to bring this story to life at Benchmark? How did you solve it?
WS: I immediately was concerned about Alex’s character, the mother in the play, and how she was written. In so many ways she can come off as uncaring and hostile. As a member of the audience it could be so easy to view her as the enemy, and let’s face it, if that happens, we don’ have a play. After uncovering this concern, I quickly felt like it was our job to work against that and that is when it ultimately hit me, that the play is actually about Alex…her choices, her struggles, her constant battle to do what she thinks is right for her child and how one can be driven to an irrational place because of the insanity. Once we all focused on that I think the play becomes what the playwright intended.
Adrian Egolf plays Alex, the mother in A Kid Like Jake with a deft touch.
EL: Alex is certainly a complex character, how do you describe her?
AE: Alex is simply a mother bear. She couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks of her, because her son is the top priority. To her, nothing is more important than his future and his happiness. She is doing all she can to make the best decisions for her son, to give him the brightest future he can possibly have. The catch is, she doesn’t know what the best decision is. She wants to protect her son from judgment and labels. She wants him to be seen for who he is, regardless of what he likes to wear, who his favorite disney character is, or what gender he identifies with. Alex is fierce and brutal when it comes to protecting her son. Like all humans, she struggles with criticism and cannot stand the thought that she may be doing more harm than good for her son’s future. She wants everything to be “fine” and “happy”, even if that means ignoring some difficult truths about how society may treat her child. She wants to do good, so she believes she deserves good things for herself and Jake.
EL: What attracted you to this story?
AE: Hmmm. That is a tough question. Everything?! I just think this story is so timely. We live in a world where gender is becoming more fluid. Younger generations are not using gender to define how humans interact with each other. “Love is love”. Women want to play football and wear suits and become CEOs. Men want to take dance classes and stay at home to raise their children. This play asks why it matters which gender expresses those desires. Why is it an issue if a little boy wants t be Cinderella? How do we react? Children are being given more freedom to “become their truest selves” and I think we are at a pivotal place in history, where we are navigating how true one can really be to themselves in our current culture. This play is a microcosm of a world where everyone is trying to do their best and be accepting of those they love, even if it means admitting something new and possibly unknown into their lives. I was attracted to this play because I fully believe Love is Love, regardless of race, gender, or creed. We are witnessing a brave new generation that is stepping up and speaking out and claiming a culture where there is no “normal”. These voices are being heard and we all need to ask ourselves how we can be good listeners and move towards a more inclusive and accepting society, a society without boxes and separate bathrooms.
EL: Any parting thoughts you’d care to add?
AE: This play really hits close to home for me because it is about real people who are trying to do their best at parenting which, to me, is the most honorable and difficult job in the world. Raising a human is hard! My own parents have done marvelous job, and continue to do so. The way in which having children affects a marriage, affects your beliefs, and affects your priorities is something we all can relate to. This play shows us that we all struggle through these major life events. We are all human. We have all experienced these difficulties and it takes the shame away from the mistakes we have made through these shared trials and tribulations. It is an opening for a much needed discussion to take place. It is a play that offers forgiveness and insight for those of us that are just trying to do out best, even after we fail and continue the struggle anyway.
A KID LIKE JAKE
BY DANIEL PEARLE
Directed by Warren Sherrill
February 16 – March 24, 2018
Friday and Saturday Nights at 8:00pm
Sunday Evenings at 6:00pm
Special Monday Industry Night February 26th at 8:00pm
$30 General Admission
Children under the age of 6 will not be admitted.