In a sane world, Daniel Pearle's drama A KID LIKE JAKE, the incandescent season opener at Deep Dish Theater, would be considered an out-and-out farce. It chronicles a professional couple's marriage as it's stretched to the breaking point by the process of assembling their only child's applications—not to college, but kindergarten, in a series of upscale private schools around New York.
As a result, the title character's behavior is closely parsed by parents Alex and Greg (Meredith Sause and Jim Moscater), pre-school administrator Judy (Rasool Jahan) and the nonfictional Educational Records Bureau, creators of the Admission Assessment for Beginning Learners, a standardized test that measures "verbal and quantitative reasoning, early literacy, and mathematics skills"—in pre-kindergarten children.
When the search for a vaunted competitive edge begins at 4, Jake's current age, the parents find themselves judged as closely as the child. They're the ones who have to fill out entrance essays assessing things like their "educational values." Alex is stressing over one as the play opens.
Under Tony Lea's direction, Sause is at the top of her game as the tightly-wound Alex. As she veers between over-analysis and denial, Alex's obsessive concern about Jake's future begins to make us wonder about the child's past. Though a bit more low-key at the start, Moscater's Greg ultimately finds the dark side in this relationship.
Jahan delivers the crisp, professional performance we expect as no-nonsense administrator Judy, and Jess Jones strongly serves in two supporting roles.
I'd like to say such madness is limited to terminal overachievers in major cities. But given assaults on public education in North Carolina such as the one reported in last week's INDY, there are probably going to be a lot more kids like Jake—and parents like these—in the future. More's the pity.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The overachievers."