When is a boy just being a boy and when does a boy need meds for ADD/ADHD? Arcturus Theater Company’s production of Distracted, from Playwright Lisa Loomer, tackles this question with humor, poignancy, and a creative approach to the theatrical fourth wall.
The play opens with Mama (Dana Gattuso) trying to meditate to start her day. She is abruptly interrupted with the ear-splitting, foul-mouthed shouting of her nine-year old son Jesse (Anders Ogelman). We don’t actually see him because, as Mama informs us, “The stage is not a good place for kids”. We are introduced to Dad (John Stange) and we soon learn that Mama and Dad rarely agree on the best approach to parenting their son.
While Dad has a “let the boy be a boy” approach, Mama meets with many medical and psychiatric professionals (Paul Brewster in four roles), Jesse’s teacher (Mary Miller also playing multiple roles), and even two annoying neighbors (Cristen Stephansky and Kathleen Burnard) in her quest to find the perfect solution that will transform her wild, yet fearful, child into the perfect young man who will allow her to feel like she is a good mom. She wonders if “Ritalin will be a better mother than I am?”
The strong cast is superb in delivering authentic performances that reminded me of many people I have known who have had to make decisions about children diagnosed with ADD (the outdated term for what is now considered just a subset of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD, one of the most common childhood disorders, affects an estimated 5.4 million children in the U.S.
While Loomer includes a lot of information and data about ADD and its symptoms and medications, she is wise to give Mama a droll sense of humor that keeps us rooting for her even as her own hyperactivity becomes a bit distracting.
Distracted addresses more, however, than just childhood ADD. Technology and its’ impact on relationships is also a theme throughout the show. Adult ADD or at least ADD-like symptoms also have a presence. The script and staging—many short scenes and action that covers all parts of the stage—add to our own sense of hyperactivity.
Gattuso is likeable as Mama, the show’s central role that covers a broad range of emotions over the two hours. She conveys equally well both humor and pathos. She and Stange are a believable couple which is critical to the success of the show. Stange has two key moments that are show stoppers and he does the moments justice without overplaying them.
Brewster works hard to create strong differentiators in the four roles he plays. He does so admirably despite a lack of help from the script. Miller really shines as she plays a variety of roles including a teacher, doctor, nurse, bartender (a small but delightful performance), and even UPS driver. She has more to work with in differentiating the parts and she used it in a way that I never questioned the part she was playing at any given moment.
We also meet the neighbor Natalie (Debora Crabbe). Crabbe is quite convincing as the teenager who has issues of her own. She makes the most of the small role that allows us to see another side of Mama. Stephansky as Natalie’s bothersome and nosy mother, plays the part with great gusto. Burnard as the fast-talking, self-described OCD neighbor seems to have endless energy. Neither part has much nuance or subtlety but both actresses fully commit to their parts.
One of the interesting parts of the show that works quite well is the production’s approach to the theatrical fourth wall, the imaginary wall of a set that separates the actors from the audience. In Distracted, the fourth wall is treated as a revolving door where the characters often talk directly to the audience. The show reminds us often we are watching a theatrical production and yet I still found myself completely engaged with the story.
Kudos to Director Ross Heath for successfully delivering all the elements necessary to make the production a success. This could go horribly wrong but it doesn’t and Heath, the actors, and the entire production team are to be congratulated. Video, Audio & Lighting Designer J. Michael Whalen contributes to the convincing sense of reality despite the spare sets, but effective sets by Sean Urbantke.
Music Coordinator Evan J. Dice contributes original music.
Arcturus Theater Company deserves many accolades for their production. I guarantee you will be laughing, you will be feeling some sadness, and you will leave the show talking about it.
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes, with one intermission.
Distracted plays through June 22, 2014 at Arcturus Theater Company performing at Atlas Performing Arts Center— 1333 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002. Purchase tickets online or by calling the Box Office at (202) 399.7993.