Theater Reviews

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Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles
Through April 29


"Distracted" is itself a distracted look at the torment and disruption that ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), formerly known as ADD, creates in upper middle-class families in Southern California. After two hours debating the nature and treatment of the disorder, during which playwright Lisa Loomer throws a moderately entertaining barrage of comic barbs at everybody who ventures onstage (and some who don't), as well as at the media distractions of modern society, Loomer concludes that it is all much simpler than she has made it seem.

And while the play takes aim at deserving targets, including the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry and George W. Bush, its interest in any real emotional depth is signaled by the fact that the main character appears onstage for less than 10 minutes.

Fortunately, Rita Wilson is onstage for the entire show and makes up much of the entertainment deficit with a virtuoso performance of warmth, humor and enormous compassion (and patience) for others as well as for herself. Whether reflecting solo or intersecting with an assortment of neighbors, educators, doctors and their idiocies, her ability to hint at the serious despair that underlies her character gives nuances of light and shade to an otherwise black-and-white landscape.

As four doctors verging on quackery, Bronson Pinchot is appropriately if a little too smugly zany and is most effective when he steps out of character to address the audience, claiming to be on anti-depressants himself. Stephanie Berry, Johanna Day, Marita Geraghty and Emma Hunton play their cartoon roles with arch glee and plenty of energy, but Ray Porter's otherwise sympathetic performance as Wilson's husband, whose role and motivation are profoundly complicated, is hampered unfairly by wooden lines. As the son, Hudson Thames brings down the house in his brief appearance, during which he shows the positive side of a ADHD personality.

The stage is dominated by three huge video screens that flash images from the media universe, of which Fox News, the Apple ad, Dr. Phil, Martha Stewart and YouTube are only a few. With a brief pause to admonish the audience to turn off their cell phones and identify the emergency exits ("They're everywhere!" the voice screams), the screens continue their relentless barrage, stopping occasionally to provide a symbolic backdrop for a stage that is bare except for stepped surfaces of various sizes and heights and minimalist counters and cabinets. When Wilson is in the psychiatrist's office, for example, the screens show van Gogh's earless self-portrait, his swirling stars picture and the medical diagram of a brain. The gradually decreasing speed with which the screens display new images mirrors the calm that gradually comes over Wilson and Porter as they realize that the best solution to ADD is simply to pay attention to their child.

It would be nice if such a simplistic approach could solve a such profoundly complex problem. Worse -- despite the fact that many of the outward aspects of Loomer's play hit home accurately and, within a limited context, amusingly -- those who have been in similar situations might feel that their emotional experiences are being marginalized.

DISTRACTED
Presented by Center Theatre Group
Credits:
Playwright: Lisa Loomer
Director: Leonard Foglia
Set/projection designer: Elaine McCarthy
Costume designer: Robert Blackman
Lighting designer: Russell Champa
Sound designer: Jon Gottlieb
Cast:
Mama: Rita Wilson
Dad: Ray Porter
Drs. Broder, Jinks, Karnes and Zavala: Bronson Pinchot
Mrs. Holly/Dr. Waller/Nurse/Carolyn/Waitress: Stephanie Berry
Sherry: Marita Geraghty
Vera: Johanna Day
Natalie: Emma Hunton
Jesse: Hudson Thames
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