Rita Wilson and Bronson Pinchot in Distracted
(© Craig Schwartz)
Rita Wilson and Bronson Pinchot in Distracted
(© Craig Schwartz)
Distracted, the new socially conscious dramedy from Lisa Loomer now receiving its world premiere at the Mark Taper Forum, is largely about the frenetic, fractured, far-flung nature of life that has become the hallmark of the Information Age. Although Loomer's witty and insightful work slowly becomes a victim of information overload itself, it still has much to say about how we have allowed distractions to invade and rule our lives, and the price the next generation is paying for that allowance.

The solid cast, energetically directed by Leonard Foglia, is led by stalwart Rita Wilson as Mama, the concerned mother of nine-year-old Jesse (Hudson Thames), whose incessant restlessness, anxiety, and high-pitched emotionalism are driving her, well, to distraction.

At school, Jesse is also constant disruption, and his teacher (Stephanie Berry, in nicely distinguished multiple roles), who has 27 other students to consider, has had enough. "Jesse does not have a learning disability," she proclaims with authority to Mama and Dad (Ray Porter) during a parent-teacher conference. Then she hits them with a painful, laser-accurate zinger. "But my entire class is disabled when he's there." Ouch!

Fearful that Jesse may have Attention Deficit Disorder (or the more politically-correct ADHD, which includes hyperactivity), Mama dives into research mode, reading books and medical reports, talking to psychologists and psychiatrists (many played in varying degrees of outrageousness by Bronson Pinchot), exploring biofeedback and homeopathy, and checking out clinics. After exhausting all these options, she reluctantly agrees to put Jesse on Ritalin. The result is a more docile child with decidedly less personality and creative instinct -- not to mention the threat of divorce from her hippie-like husband if she doesn't take the boy off the drugs.

Loomer's strength -- and, to some extent, her undoing as well -- is her ability to give fair play to all sides of the issues at hand. But she loses control of this a bit in Act II, where she seems to lose some trust in her story and lets some preachiness creep in. Moreover, all the asides to the audience (especially by Pinchot) become distracting to the point of near annoyance; and by now we've already gotten the point -- repeatedly.

Like Ritalin and other pharmacological treatments, today's technology offers enormous benefits -- and equally enormous side effects. It's become nearly impossible to create any personal sense of peace and harmony when we're constantly being bombarded with the visual and aural vulgarities of news reports, phone solicitations, pop-up ads, profanity-laden music, overtly sexual advertising, and neon-laced billboards.

Set and projection designer Elaine J. McCarthy does a grand job of establishing this technologically-driven world with her giant on-stage screens, which shoots off rapid-fire video images of news reports, talks shows, game shows, TV series, cartoons, sporting events, and cheesy paid advertisements. Interspersed amongst them are shots of kitchen utensils, rows of schoolbooks, Impressionist paintings, and picket-fenced front yards that help define locations in her sterile, multi-leveled set.

The questions that Loomer raises in Distracted are difficult ones, and there are no easy answers. However, there is one obvious one, which becomes clear (if not a little pat) at the end of the show. Perhaps the term "Attention Deficit Disorder" actually has a dual application, referring not just to the short attention span of the child, but to the lack of attention paid to the child by overwhelmed, overcommitted, endlessly multi-tasking parents. The loudest cry of all may be the one that finally reaches over the din of cell phones and commercials and boom boxes: the cry of the frustrated child who is simply trying to say to his parents, "May I have your attention, please?"