Theater review: `Distracted’

Apr 08

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Rebecca Dines is a harried mother desperately trying to figure out how to help her 9-year-old son, who may have Attention Deficit Disorder, in Lisa Loomer’s Distracted, a TheatreWorks production. Photo by Mark Kitaoka

Script’s lack of depth distracts in otherwise enjoyable `Distracted’
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Say this for the TheatreWorks production of Distracted by Lisa Loomer: it gets the brain-pinching chaos of modern life exactly right.

It’s all there — the constantly ringing cell phones, the call waiting, the Internet information overload, the remote control ruling the roost with hundreds of channels and any kind of music merely a click away. No wonder the kids we bring into this world are distracted.

Loomer’s play finds itself in a hot spot. There was a fantastic production in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s black box theater. And Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon just starred in the high-profile New York production.

This TheatreWorks outing reunites director Armando Molina and star Rebecca Dines, who worked together in TheatreWorks’ 2004 production of Loomer’s Living Out, a stronger, more artfully shaped play.

In Distracted, we get an unnamed mother (Dines) whose frantic life is dominated by her troubled 9-year-old son, Jesse (Gabriel Hoffman, mostly a loud offstage voice with a penchant for dropping F-bombs). Jesse’s days are frenzied leaps from energetic highs (he loves to invent hors d’oeuvres) to despairing lows (he loathes putting on his pajamas). Sensitive, intelligent and uncontrolled, he has trouble in school and makes life difficult for his teacher (Elizabeth Carter) and his classmates.

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Mom devotes herself to figuring out what’s wrong with Jesse, and after consulting with a raft of professionals – all played by Carter, Dena Martinez and Cassidy Brown – it turns out he has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. Mom and Dad (Robert Yacko making the most of an underwritten role) spar over whether or not to put their child on medication. Dad is adamantly against it and says that Jesse is a perfectly normal boy. “Is childhood a disorder now?” he asks. Mom is loathe to risk turning her vibrant son into a zombie: “He’s the most interesting person I know,” she says.

With Mom shuttling between doctors, she pauses occasionally to interact with her quirky neighbors (are there any other kind in these sitcom-y issue plays?). There’s the Jewish mom (Tara Blau) whose daughter (a superb Jayne Deely) is dealing with cutting and bipolar disorder and there’s the deadpan Prozac mom (Suzanne Grodner, finding humor and empathy in the role) whose kid is on a whole raft of medications for his ADHD.

Dines anchors the play with more comedy than drama. She never quite connects as a compassionate, nurturing mom, but she does keep pace with the constant motion and barrage of information that play throws at her. Her best scenes are with Deely, the troubled teen she has watched grow up and turn into an emotional mess.

In the supporting cast, Brown sinks his comic chops into a series of doctors, and he seems to relish breaking the fourth wall as an actor who feels compelled to put in a good word for Ritalin.

The pace of the play is, understandably, frantic. Molina’s production zips right along, with Melpomene Katakalos’ set and Jason H. Thompson’s video projections helping speed things considerably. When Mom goes onto the Internet, the walls of the set are filled with Web sites. When it’s time to watch TV or see things explode in an action movie, the set is awash in images.

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By the end of Act 1, the feeling of exhaustion weighs heavy. A lot of information – visual and auditory — has been dumped on us, and the question arises: Is this entertainment or a lecture demonstration?

Act 2 of this one-hour, 40-minute show slows just enough to allow in some real emotion and connect with rather than beat down the audience. Distracted would probably be stronger as a 90-minute one-act play. For too long, Loomer skims across the top of issues and never delves. The comic pacing belies the seriousness of the plot. It’s like there’s a fear that if the play slows down and the images stop assaulting us we’ll notice just how thin this play is – a brochure more than a work of art.

Getting to the emotional core of the play almost comes too late, but Loomer has a few tricks to make her audience happier, even if she does leave them hanging.

TheatreWorks’ Distracted continues through April 26 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $23-$61. Call (650) 903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org for information.

 

 

One comment

  1. What a differance of this Theatre Works production from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production we saw in 2007. “Distracted” played in the intimate New Theatre with out all of those bells and whistles. It was more personable and I got a lot of the emotion of the play from the cast up there.

    I like this production but this small intimate play on a stage full of television screens flicking images even including a news program from CNN distracted me from the great acting of Rebecca Dines. My God, that stage is almost the size of a football field. I would have love to have seen this play at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto.

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