URT’s ‘Distracted’ entertains as it informs
CAMBRIDGE — It’s not funny, but the way it is presented is.
The medical condition Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) — or, as it is now more commonly known now, Attention Hyperactive Deficit Disorder (AHDD) — is at the center of Lisa Loomer’s 2007 comedy “Distracted,” now being presented through June 2 at the Central Square Theatre in a co-production between the Underground Railway Theatre and the Catalyst Collabrorative@MIT, the theatrical partnership that has shown great promise in recent years.
“Distracted” is one of the better shows of the 2012-13 theater season, combining Loomer’s engaging, funny writing and the efforts of an excellent cast. It is an incisive, provocative look at a society in which we are all somewhat distracted, and what happens when that distraction reaches troublesome levels — and affects relationships.
As “Distracted” opens, Mama (Stacy Fischer) is meditating at a frenzied pace — talk about a mixed metaphor — to get finished before son Jesse wakes up and begins his day.
Alec Shiman is one of two actors playing Jesse, and you won’t see Shiman until the final moments, but you will hear him. Boy, will you hear him. He will demand, cajole, plead — and swear.
At a tender age, he is a master of obscenities, much to the dismay of his teacher, Mrs. Holly (Michelle Dowd), who advises Mama to get professional help because Jesse’s behavior — she labels it ADD — has left him with no friends and is leading to problems in school.
Fischer as Mama becomes a pinball, careening from one medical professional to another, encountering neighbors who are “distracted” in their own way, as well as dealing with a husband (Nael Nacer) who is very reluctant to acknowledge any problems with his son — “Can’t a boy be a boy?” — and who, himself, may also suffer from AHDD, and who may feel that his wife’s concerns are also a reflection on him.
In any family, the problems of the child are visited on the parents, and when a child is suffering, so are the parents — and their relationship.
The possible causes for Jesse’s condition — environmental toxins, food additives — are brought into the conversation.
The decisions are dizzying and many. Whether to try drugs, homeopathic therapy or behavior modification? What are the side effects of the drugs? What about the statistics that show kids afflicted have difficulties in school, a multitude of problems outside of school, and that 60 percent suffer from other maladies besides ADD?
Then there’s the troubled babysitter Natalie (Katie Ellinoff) who’s “cutting” herself, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world, forcing Fischer to wonder if she’s putting her child at risk by even allowing her to babysit him.
There are a host of excellent performances supporting Fischer, including Nacer, the recent winner of an IRNE Award for “Our Town,” the oft-brilliant Steven Barkimer, appearing with script in hand (“Do you think I could remember my lines without Ritalin? I have to remember four parts.”); URT Artistic Director Debra Wise as a sympathetic physician and Kerry Dowling and April Pressel as well-meaning but clueless neighbors.
The modern but somewhat sterile set by Sara Brown sets the action in the middle of the theater, and the production benefits greatly from the lighting and projections of Bozkurt “Bozzy” Karasu and David Remedios’ sound, all of which combine to give us a clear picture of the various ways we are all distracted.
There are many laughs mixed in with the pain and tears, and at the end there is hope, but there is one moment that will especially stay with you if your child has this type of problem, when the parents heartbreakingly plead “I want a normal child.”
We don’t know if they will ever get their wish. Or, given the state of our media-driven, “distracted” society, what “normal” actually is anymore.
The Underground Railway Theatre and Catalyst Collaborative@MIT production of Lisa Loomer’s “Distracted.” Directed by Wesley Savick. At the Central Square Theatre, Massachusetts Avenue, through June 2. Centralsquaretheater.org