(Rita Wilson and Johanna Day discuss why Johnny is a foul-mouthed rage-a-holic in Distracted.)
Distracted by Lisa Loomer, directed by Leonard Foglia at the Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles. March 15 - April 29.
Lisa Loomer gets style points for reaching beyond the usual commercial grasp. For Distracted grapples with the many societal accusations for the cause of Attention Defiicit Disorder (ADD, now ADHD for those not paying attention). Rita Wilson portrays a Mama whose son turns into a foul-mouthed vortex of rage. The diagnosis is ADHD but aging hippie Dad (Ray Porter) threatens Mama with divorce before agreeing to pump the kid full of Ritalin. Bronson Pinchot plays a variety of doctors with a panoply of dialects.
The real standouts here are Stephanie Berry, playing everything from a sullen waitress to effervescent, Jamaican nurse. Johanna Day is delightfully obsessive-compulsive as a driven but inevitably helpful neighbor who does not believe in small talk. Loomer argues that while diet, genetics and allergies may affect our kids, the culprit may also be media overstimulation. This concept is enabled by a triptych of screens upstage blasting images against our corneas, courtesy of Elaine McCarthy’s stunning projection design.
By play’s end, Loomer leans toward more attention toward children as a solution, which is lovely but rings false, as does her condemnation of George W. Bush as classically ADHD. Director Leonard Foglia pushes Pinchot to do broad shtik. Loomer exacerbates this by letting his characters break the fourth wall and talk about their own attention deficits. She also hands Porter the unenviable role of a father who won’t negotiate, cries out of frustration and then threatens divorce, a nasty tet-a-tet that is never addressed again. Still, this kind of multifaceted inquiry about our ability to focus is, if not on target, valuable for identifying the target’s periphery.
Critical Moment: Great video projection. Distracting “meta-theatre” gimmicks. Two female supporting players steal the show. Important play that has ironically not found its own focus.