‘Living Out,” about women on the lower rung of the economic ladder who leave their own children to care for the children of wealthy Anglo career women, and “The Waiting Room,” about medical ethics regarding the pursuit of beauty and perfection, are memorable as the work of lauded playwright Lisa Loomer. She has come forward again with another excellently written, humorous, and stimulating dramatic inquiry into a subject that is of topical, social, and medical concern. In “Distracted,” parents of a nine-year-old boy are acutely aware that he is virtually uncontrollable at home, and that has also been deemed incorrigible at school. They are told he has a learning disability — ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
While you may infer that there is considerable clinical data unearthed and lot of talk about a condition that seems to be growing with epidemic speed, be assured that Loomer has skillfully created an arena that challenges us to face more than the probable causes. More to the point, the play is about how a diagnosis of ADHD affects a family and how they attempt to cope with it.
Under the direction of Mark Brokaw, the play uses unexpected dramatic (dare I say distracting?) devices to keep us immersed. While the excellent supporting actors play multiple roles, the leads, Mama (Cynthia Nixon) and Dad (Josh Stamberg), occasionally break the fourth wall and address the audience with whimsical asides.
If anything, Loomer keeps “Distracted” wryly observant as Mama and Dad attempt to make sense out of all the authoritarian diagnoses. The situation that this family is dealing with remains heartbreaking even as it is presented from a perspective that allows a wry kind of humor to seep through.
How are Mama and Dad going to deal with Jesse (Matthew Gumley, whom we hear off-stage and are constantly made aware of but not seen) and also cope with their own conflicted and conflicting response to the advice and treatments recommended by medical, social, and educational professionals? Dad is convinced that Jesse will be alright if left to be himself, and he affects more traditional measures to keep Jesse under control.
To medicate or not to medicate Jesse becomes a critical decision for them that could also prompt the dissolution of their marriage. Mama’s career as an interior designer is not only compromised by her distraction with Jesse’s behavior, but also the distractions that are the result of all the research and study she embarks upon. But she is first and foremost a concerned mother who is determined to seek out help, both traditional and non-traditional. They finally resort to Ritalin with questionable results. What are they to do when Jesse quiets down, loses personality, and becomes creatively passive?
Nixon, a splendid stage actress probably best known for her role in TV’s (and the film) “Sex and the City,” nicely balances Mama’s anxieties and frustrations with an agitated cool, even when she resorts to some really off-the-wall cure programs. Stamburg, who is making his Roundabout debut, is terrific as the macho Dad, who, although he has a rough and tough time keeping Jesse under control, doesn’t want him to lose the dynamics of his personality.
Lisa Emery is wonderfully comical as Vera, the nutty neighbor who has all the answers. Among the supporting cast, Aleta Mitchell, Natalie Gold, Shana Dowdeswell, and Mimi Lieber offer solid performances. Peter Benson is standout as a parade of doctors, each of whom also has the answers.
Scenes that include the consultations and the proscribed treatments by the various psychiatrists, psychologists, allergists, and holistic practitioners offer us a glimpse of the hardly definitive answers to a phenomenon that appears to be afflicting more and more children. Set designer Mark Wendland has done a superior job in creating home and away environments that are filled with colors, videos, sounds, and distractions that certainly corroborate the fact that our increasingly manic and unfocused behavior is the cost of an increasingly distracting world. “Distracted” does not take a stand either for or against medical intervention, but that we should perhaps be looking more strenuously for and at the causes of ADHD. ***
“Distracted,” through Sunday, May 10, Roundabout at the Laura Pels Theater, 111 West 46th Street. $70 to $80. 212-719-1300.