How often have you seen a play where the audience breaks into applause mid-scene?
Lisa Loomer’s Distracted has hit an important nerve in a contemporary society that, on the one hand, pleads with kids to say “no to drugs!” and then drugs as many as 2.5 million kids with Ritalin to keep them quiet, conforming and “under control”...
Kids who are different, kids who have short attention spans, kids who are driving their teachers crazy and their parents “to distraction” are being fed the easy solution… drug them!
Distracted is fast, funny and hits us where we live.
Before the play begins, the audience is driven to “distraction” with multiple video screens–quick loud images of noisy TV, constantly ringing cellphones, traffic roar, blaring music…a cacaphony of attention-demanding sound which is life in today’s wildly fast-paced society.
Mama (well played by Rita Wilson) talks directly to the audience about her dilemma. She has a kid who is driving them all crazy. Her son Jesse, horses around at school, keeps them up at night with bad dreams, and can’t settle down to his homework. The teacher (Stephanie Berry) complains that her classes are too large and she can’t manage a wild kid. To this problem, they see only one solution: Ritalin. Drug him!
Mama is really concerned. She wants to do what’s best for Jesse. Her fast-talking, edgy neighbor (Johanna Day) is herself taking drugs for anxiety, and her kid already takes Ritalin. The babysitter, Natalie (Emma Hunton), likes Jesse, has no problem relating to him, but she also takes drugs, and she cannot deal with reality… she inflicts self wounds – as a “cutter”.
Dad (Ray Porter) says he was wild in his own childhood and he grew out of it. He won’t give in to drugs. But on the other hand, his kid has been diagnosed with “ADHD”, and eventually he gives in. Soon Jesse is sitting in a corner, depressed–he does his homework on time, but he’s unhappy and half-asleep. He’s “drugged”. These, of course, are “side-effects” and must be treated with other drugs.
Distracted explores all the many contemporary modern solutions, including a special “diet camp” until Dad says, “Enough.” Jesse is off drugs, a wild, rather normal kid doing clever dances, etc., and we are reminded that had Edison and Einstein grown up today, they most likely would have been labeled with ADHD and drugged down into “normalcy.”
The play at times hits the problem on the head with a pretty blunt hammer, but what it says is worth listening to - that instead of taking time with our kids, slowing our own pace, listening and interacting, society has taken an easy out. The fact that Loomer keeps Jesse behind walls until the end when he finally introduces himself, cleverly shows him not as a statistic, or another “ADHD” kid, but simply as a funny, wild, slightly crazy and very creative boy.
The ending may seem slightly simplistic, especially to parents trying to cope with wild, funny, non-conforming kids, but make no mistake, Distracted is a rare piece of lively entertainment that opens up a contemporary tragedy: treating childhood differences with drugs. Left in doubt was the audience in downtown Los Angeles, which rose to its feet, applauding the message, the performance and the performers.
Lis Loomer's 'Distracted' plays the Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center in downown Los Angeles, CA until April 29, 2007 and then is expected to transfer to San Francisco, Denver, New York and beyond...