Kyle Jensen / The Record — Nate Edmiston and Sommer Harris, who play Jake’s parents, discuss potential issues that may arise from his fascination with girly things.

Outcast Theater play addresses gender identity in kids

When director Ned Farley first read the script for “A Kid Like Jake,” a play revolving around a preschooler with gender identity issues, he knew it covered a topic that needed discussion.

That was two years ago, before gender was one of the current topics of political limelight.

As Outcast Theater prepares to show the play this weekend, the issue has become more relevant than ever before.

“I don’t think we necessarily planned to perform the play in the middle of this big discussion, but obviously in the last couple of months this issue has been thrown into the spotlight,” Farley said. “But we knew this was a topic that still needed focus. It was one of those moments where we were in the right place at the right time.”

“A Kid Like Jake” premieres at Outcast Theater in Langley at 7:30 p.m. tonight. The play will show on Fridays and Saturdays through the end of the month, including performances on Sunday, Sept. 24 and Thursday, Sept. 28. For the performance schedule, visit http://www.outcastproductions.net/.

Tickets cost $18; student and senior tickets cost $14. Tickets to the Thursday, Sept. 28 performance cost $12.

“A Kid Like Jake” revolves around a 4-year-old boy and his family who are in the process of applying for a number of New York City’s ultra-competitive private schools. Throughout the process, it becomes clear that Jake prefers princesses to G.I. Joe. As the application process develops, his behavior becomes more unpredictable, throwing a potential monkey wrench into his parents’ plans as they begin to wonder if his interests may be an issue for the private schools.

The play doesn’t actually feature Jake as a character, instead those around him who are impacted by his situation — his parents and the social worker assigned to his case. According to Farley, it’s a story about how a husband and wife “struggle to do right by their son” and the challenges that come with raising a child who’s wrestling with gender identity.

Farley’s interest in the subject stems from his career. He works in the mental health field, and has heard the stories of people with similar experiences.

“While I’ve worked in theater most of my life, I’ve also worked as a mental health practitioner,” Farley said. “I’ve dealt with a lot of clients who’ve struggled with gender identity, and their stories about how well, or not well, they’ve gotten along with it were always striking.”

Outcast Theater features the play as the discussion surrounding transgender issues takes center stage. Farley says the topic is grabbing the headlines these days, in reference to the Trump administration’s announcement that people who identify as transgender won’t be able to serve in the military. Additionally, transgender people are gaining more coverage in the media and in the entertainment industry. While the play doesn’t outwardly discuss the transgender topic, it alludes to the fact that it might come up in Jake’s future. At the very least, the play centers around individuality, gender roles, bullying and how parents deal with their child going through such things.

According to Nate Edmiston, who plays Jake’s father, the added relevance gives a glimpse into just how quickly the issue was thrust into the headlines.

“It’s interesting, because it was written in 2014 and it’s almost as if the playwright knew it would become a big topic of discussion,” Edmiston said. “Things that were risqué in 2012 might be normal now.”

“A Kid Like Jake” fulfills Outcast Theater’s tag line of “theater with a social conscious.” Farley was well aware of this, and the content played a large role in his decision to bring the play to audiences on South Whidbey. According to him and Carolyn Tamler, who does public relations for the theater, Outcast’s mission is to present productions not only for their entertainment value, but to spark conversations among the audience.

While the topic can be controversial, they hope the performance gives the audience a different perspective.

“Outcast likes to choose things that are a little bit different,” Tamler said. “This can be controversial, but there is a lot of stuff going on regarding the issue. We just hope this allows people to see it from a different perspective.”

Kyle Jensen / The Record — Nate Edmiston and Sommer Harris, who play Jake’s parents, discuss potential issues that may arise from his fascination with girly things.

Kyle Jensen / The Record — Sommer Harris (left) and Gretchen d’Armand (right) discuss Jake’s private school application process. Harris plays Jake’s mother, Alex, and d’Armand plays a social worker assigned to Jake’s case.

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