- This event has passed.
Apr 26, 2013 - May 5, 2013
by Lisa Loomer
DATES: April 26 – May 5, 2013
What’s wrong with nine-year-old Jesse? He can’t sit still, he curses, he raps, and you can’t get him into – or out of – pajamas. His teacher thinks it’s Attention Deficit Disorder. Dad says, “He’s just a boy!” And Mama’s on a quest for answers. Is Jesse dysfunctional, or just different? Don’t we all have ADD, to some degree? She consults a psychologist, a homeopath, a neuropsychologist, and an environmental physician. She talks to neighbors, whose kids have their own diagnoses. A psychiatrist prescribes Ritalin for Jesse, but surely a pill can’t solve all of his problems. Throughout, Jesse is an offstage voice, becoming louder and angrier, but he is in danger of fading away. And his parents’ marriage is in peril. A hilarious, provocative, and poignant look at a modern family and an epidemic dilemma: Are we so tuned into our 24/7 info-rich world that we’ve tuned out what really matters?
“A smartly comic, sharply observant and surprisingly humane play.” – Associated Press.
“With a clever script by Lisa Loomer and clear direction from Deena Conley, (Distracted) flings out a lot of issues that affect kids but really tell us more about the grown-ups in their orbits.” – Michael Morain, The Des Moines Register
“Chalk another superb production up for StageWest… (Distracted) often evokes laughter to cover truths and varying shades of gray that the world of attention deficit disorder leaves in its wake.” – John Busbee, The Culture Buzz
Mama – Angela Vogel
Dad – Eric Lee
Dr. Zavala, Waitress, Carolyn – Erika Hakmiller
Mrs. Holly, Dr. Waller, Nurse – Cara Hoppes McCulley
Dr. Border, Dr. Jinks, Dr. Karnes – Shane Donegan
Vera – Susan Sheriff
Natalie – Bridget Roepke
Sherry – Laura Jordan
Jesse – Asa Stanfield
Director – Deena Conley
Stage Manger – Nicole Taweel
Set Designer – Steve McLean
Props Designer – Barb McClintock
Sound Designer – Maxwell Schaeffer
Set Construction – Paul Mostrom
Hair/Makeup Designer – Cindy Hummel
Lighting Designer – Jim Trenberth
Costume Designer – Mell Ziegenfus
Media Designer – Elisabeth Ballstadt
Production Manager – Mike Tweeton
“Distracted hits home in age of multitasking”
Theatrical review by Michael Morain The Des Moines Register 4/29/2013
Maybe 9-year-old Jesse is just a handful. Or maybe he actually has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, as his teacher suspects.
He yells a lot, that’s for sure. And a lot of what he yells would earn some kids a mouthful of soap. But it’s hard to tell exactly what his problem is since he spends all but a few minutes off stage in “Distracted,” which StageWest presents through Sunday at the Stoner Theater in the Civic Center.
It’s much easier to see that something is wrong with the adults in this frenetic comedy because the focus, scattered as it is, falls squarely on them. With a clever script by Lisa Loomer and clear direction from Deena Conley, the show flings out a lot of issues that affect kids but really tell us more about the grown-ups in their orbits — about their hang-ups with parenting, education and the powers and limitations of prescription drugs. It picks up where “Next to Normal” or “Nurse Jackie” or even “Jekyll & Hyde” left off, and re-examines mental health within the context of an ordinary family with an ordinary kid who acts out.
As the story begins, that problem — specifically, Jesse’s tantrums and foul language (hollered with gusto by an unseen Asa Stanfield) — has descended on the household like a hurricane that shows no signs of clearing up. The boy’s stay-at-home mom (the terrific Angela Vogel) tries to stay calm in the eye of the storm but gets pulled into a swirl of anxiety, not only by Jesse’s outbursts but also the familiar barrage of 21st century life. She can barely recite her daily Prayer of St. Francis without answering the phone or checking news on the laptop at the kitchen counter. (Internet and TV images are projected onto three screens above designer Steve McLean’s stylized game-showy set.)
Vogel’s jittery energy and brittle smile mask a deeper layer of bewilderment, suggesting that managing Jesse’s behavior may be easier than convincing everybody else that things are just fine. After all, she wonders aloud, “What kind of parent drugs a 9-year-old?”
Jesse’s dad (rock-solid Eric Lee) doesn’t make things easier, often playing devil’s advocate to her various proposals. He, too, worries about the kid but has little confidence in pills and even less in the no-wheat, no-dairy, no-fun treatment that one of the doctors suggests. When his wife pulls out the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM IV, whose fifth edition, DSM V, hits shelves next month), he digs in his heels. “These are symptoms of childhood,” he fumes. “Is childhood a disorder now?”
The family’s storm tosses a handful of somewhat exaggerated characters into their path, including Jesse’s wise but weary teacher (Cara Hoppes McCulley), a pricey psychologist (Erika Hakmiller), a pair of meddling, competitive neighbors (Laura Jordan, Susan Sheriff) and one of their teenage daughters (Bridget Roepke), who has enough emotional turmoil for her own show.
Although three actors take on multiple roles, none juggles them better than Shane Donegan, who switches from a touchy-feely homeopath in a Hawaiian shirt to a cold clinician in a lab coat, comparing Ritalin for ADHD to insulin for diabetes or glasses for poor eyesight. In one of many pokes through the fourth wall, he addresses the audience directly: “Do you think I’d be able to remember my (expletive) lines if it weren’t for Ritalin?”
It’s one of several jokes that hits just when the playwright must have worried that things were getting too heavy. The show can’t seem to decide whether to be funny or serious, so it is both. That fits the material but it’s also a little jarring, especially when something like the Boston Marathon news flashes up on the same screen with shoes from Zappos.com.
But that’s life now. That’s what we’ve come to in the age of multi-tasking. When Jesse’s dad asks his wife to name someone who actually takes the time to listen, she’s stumped until she points triumphantly at the audience. “They do!”
But even that’s a stretch. A cellphone rang in the audience in an unscripted moment during this past Sunday’s matinee. Its owner pulled it from her purse and answered it.
“Art imitates life imitates art in layered comedy”
Theatrical review by John Busbee The Culture Buzz 4/28/2013
Even without seeing the advance promotion, I would know that “Distracted” is a StageWest Theatre Company production. With a penchant for bringing premieres to Iowa audiences that resonate with social conscientiousness, chalk another superb production up for StageWest.
Delivering a script as angular as Steve McLean’s geometrically inspired set, Director Deena Conley draws every conflicted bit of nuance from Lisa Loomer’s script. Loomer paints a close-hitting comedy drama following the challenges of a very well-meaning mother as she and her husband deal with the challenges their nine-year old son cause with his outrageous and disruptive behaviors. Plopped between neighbors seeming to vie for top honors on the edge of the stability through medication and psychiatry spectrum, the mother’s concerns are amplified to a tension level that brings characters and relationships to a breaking point. Loomer’s story often evokes laughter to cover truths and varying shades of gray that the world of attention deficit disorder leaves in its wake.
Anchoring this show is Mama, played with candid anxiety as she considers a seemingly ever-increasing array of options in dealing with her son. Angela Vogel brings a special insecurity to her quest as she considers not just the realization that her son may be ADD, but any choice she makes could make or break his entire well-being and future. Add her shattering the fourth wall, and following her journey becomes a special relationship. Countering with a more traditional tough-it-out stance is Dad, brought to blunt life by Eric Lee. Marital tensions mount, thankfully broken by the hilarious counterpoint of Loomer’s script. One of many memorable moments happens when Mama is reading the definition for ADD, while Dad is watching images of George W. Bush on the television. Yes, G.W. is always good for a laugh; this moment is especially well crafted.
Erika Hakmiller plays three roles, her most memorable as a Waitress with a definite challenge in keeping focus. Also playing a trio of parts is Cara Hoppes McCulley, with her “I know that person” teacher, Mrs. Holly, forcing the audience to revisit the autocratic world of teacher-is-god. Shane Donegan likewise corrals three roles, three diverse doctors, while also delivering a scripted breaking of character to wonderful effect. As high strung neighbor, Vera, Susan Sheriff delivers some of the best work with her cringe-inducing intensity that would wilt steel. As the babysitter teen, Natalie, Bridget Roepke includes a subtle layer of vulnerability in her search for self-understanding and acceptance. Add another neighbor, Natalie’s mom, Sherry (Laura Jordan),who could be a spokesperson for medicating – not drugging – children to help them cope with their ADD, and this complex chess table of character interactions is set. With his late in the second act appearance, following a curse-laced offstage presence, is son, Jesse, brought to Dennis the Menace energy by Asa Stanfield.
The churning of characters flipping in and out of scenes, the slick use of projections on three screens incorporated into McLean’s mood enhancing set and some of the extremes in actions coupled with convention breaking moments leave anyone experiencing this show with a true ADD immersion. The ensemble brings a strong script to great life under Conley’s guidance, and perhaps doesn’t answer any questions so much as provides a springboard to consider options from the “drug ‘em with Ritilin” mantra seemingly at society’s leading edge. One thing everyone who does take the time to attend “Distracted” will receive is a memorable perspective into the challenging world we live in.