Thursday, April 22, 2010

Theater review: 'Distracted' explores ADD expertly, but writer's homily simplistic

Michael McKeever‭ ‬and‭ ‬Laura Turnbull in Distracted.

By Hap Erstein

With two parts wisecracks and one part wisdom,‭ ‬Lisa Loomer has aimed her word processor at some of contemporary life‭’‬s intriguing social issues.

She‭ ‬has‭ ‬illuminated our views on employing Third World nannies‭ (‬Living Out‭)‬,‭ ‬body modification rituals‭ (‬The Waiting Room‭) ‬and efforts to become parents‭ (‬Expecting Isabel‭) ‬with highly theatrical humor.

Belonging unmistakably to that same family of plays is‭ ‬Distracted,‭ ‬a look through the comic microscope at the perplexing epidemic of the childhood condition,‭ ‬attention‭ ‬deficit‭ (‬hyperactivity‭) ‬disorder.‭ ‬Now receiving its area premiere at Boca Raton‭’‬s‭ ‬Caldwell Theatre,‭ ‬the play is certainly informative,‭ ‬supplies laughs at regular intervals,‭ ‬and is directed capably by Clive Cholerton in a expertly performed production with first-rate video visuals culled by Sean Lawson.‭

But eventually Loomer feels‭ ‬compelling to provide a solution to this medical stumper,‭ ‬or at least some solace for parents driven to distraction by their overly rambunctious offspring.‭ ‬And when she does,‭ ‬it is with a tidy,‭ ‬simplistic homily that all but destroys the goodwill she had‭ ‬amassed up to that point.

Helping considerably to finesse the script‭’‬s eventual letdown is Laura Turnbull as the mother of a‭ ‬9-year-old suburban hellion named Jesse.‭ ‬Audience members with a world view like W.C.‭ ‬Fields‭’‬ will be pleased and relieved to‭ ‬hear that the tot is heard,‭ ‬but not seen,‭ ‬for most of the evening.

Still,‭ ‬he is on everyone‭’‬s mind as Mama‭ ‬--‭ ‬yes,‭ ‬that‭’‬s the only label Loomer gives her‭ ‬--‭ ‬begins her journey of discovery,‭ ‬visiting clueless,‭ ‬contradictory doctors,‭ ‬impatient,‭ ‬disinterested teachers and meddlesome neighboring moms,‭ ‬trying to find a way to restore some normalcy‭ ‬--‭ ‬whatever that is‭ ‬--‭ ‬to Jesse and her family.

She finds that there is no magic pill solution,‭ ‬but there is Ritalin,‭ ‬which is unlikely to cure the boy,‭ ‬but it can help keep him focused or at least quieter in class.‭ ‬Jesse‭’‬s dad‭ (‬understandably perplexed Stephen G.‭ ‬Anthony‭) ‬is staunchly against medicating the boy,‭ ‬feeling that ADD is something one simply grows out of in time,‭ ‬but Mama succumbs to the pharmaceutical exit strategy.

Loomer jumps her characters around in time and space,‭ ‬as if the play had come down with a bit of ADD itself.‭ ‬And while‭ ‬she is not suggesting that‭ ‬21st-century media overload is a cause of ADD,‭ ‬it‭’‬s not helping matters,‭ ‬either.‭ ‬The production design is dominated by two oversized video screens that bombard us with information and images,‭ ‬suggesting the electronic assault we have learned to live with and assimilate.

One of Turnbull‭’‬s most striking features are her deeply affecting,‭ ‬mournful eyes,‭ ‬which certainly come in handy here,‭ ‬but she is also a deft comedienne,‭ ‬and she earns all of the laughs that Loomer tosses her way,‭ ‬amid the anguish.‭ ‬Michael McKeever is all about comedy as a succession of physicians or,‭ ‬rather,‭ ‬as an ADD-addled actor turned functional by Ritalin,‭ ‬allowing him to play a succession of physicians.

And while her subplot is a tangent from the main story,‭ ‬motor-mouthed Nikki Bromberg is a genuine find as Jesse‭’‬s babysitter,‭ ‬a teen in pain whose cry-for-help habit of‭ ‬cutting herself has led to her own medication.‭

Toss in entertaining support from the long-absent Kim Cozort,‭ ‬Lela Elam and Kim Ostrenko,‭ ‬and you have a brisk evening of theater.‭ ‬It could have been a far better one,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬if Loomer had accepted that‭ ‬it is enough to ask questions rather than provide a facile answer.

DISTRACTED,‭ ‬Caldwell Theatre,‭ ‬7901‭ ‬N.‭ ‬Federal Highway,‭ ‬Boca Raton.‭ ‬Through May‭ ‬16.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$34-$55.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬241-7432‭ ‬0r‭ (‬877‭) ‬245-7432.

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