What are parents to do when their child is having problems at school, won’t obey at home and is diagnosed with ADD? According to Lisa Loomer’s play “Distracted,” currently playing at Stratford’s Square One Theatre, the choices range from many to none.
Mama, played superbly by Lillian Garcia, wants to do what’s best for her 9-year-old son, Jesse. She sets out to investigate her options. This includes visiting a homeopath, a neuropsychologist, an environmental physician and trying drugs like Ritalin. Along with this investigation, she tries out recommendations from professionals and even from neighbors, none of whom are “normal.”
Dad, played realistically and convincingly by Pat Leo, wants his son to be free to be himself. He doesn’t want his kid on drugs. He feels so strongly about this that he tells his wife that if she continues to give their son Ritalin, he will divorce her and ask for child custody. Dad insists that kids should have a childhood and for boys that means being boys.
So many fine points are made in this play that it’s absolutely thought provoking. One has to wonder why teachers like Ms. Holly want all their students to behave the same way? Betty McCready plays the role of the nasty teacher so well that the audience immediately dislikes Ms. Holly. Here is a teacher who is quick to pigeonhole her students and point her finger at a student acting out of the “norm” as ready for special ed.
Michelle Duncan plays multiple roles and excels at each characterization, especially as the “distracted” waitress. James Leaf, as a crazed actor and homeopathic specialist, offers great comic relief, as does Lucy Babbitt as Sherry, a neighbor who sings high praises to Ritalin as she binge eats a donut and then works out. Ann Kinner beautifully portrays Vera, a compulsive/obsession neighbor who has a purse full of pills and is extremely hyper.
Alanna Delgado takes on the role of a troubled teen who cuts herself. While Delgado’s performance is nearly picture-perfect as Natalie, the character seems so tragic that one is surprised she doesn’t commit suicide. After all, no one has time for her and even Jesse’s Mama ignores her plea for help. Young Jesse is performed by Michael Mulligan, a fifth grade student at Stratford Academy. Jesse is heard but not scene throughout the play. Only in the last scene does he appear.
While this is a gem of a play, one does have to wonder why every character in the cast is so “over the edge.” There isn’t one voice of reason, although Dad comes close to that, in spite of the fact that he loves to watch violent television shows and movies. All of the characters have problems, are self-serving, or both. However, the playwright does a great job of looking at modern families and the distractions that face the new generation of parenting. In addition to the beeps, buzzes, and clicks that not only distract and interrupt our daily lives and relationships, the playwright asks how do parents know what the new normal is? How do you know if your child is creative and imaginative or in need of psychiatric help? These tough questions are handled in good humor by a multi-talented cast.
Greg Fairbend’s set design captures the colorful essence of the play simply and effectively with three pieces of modern art, a rectangle, circle, and triangle — all of many colors and shapes — and three Crayola-colored wooden chairs. Don Henault’s sound and artwork are precision perfect and Cliff Fava’s lighting highlights the action. Overall, this is another Tom Holehan hit. It plays through March 16 and is quite a delightful and insightful “Distraction.”
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS and CBS-CT. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]