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Are you the parent of one of 2 million American kids who swear a blue streak, won't sit still or obey and act out 24/7? Worried about a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD and the dizzying range of treatment options? Lisa Loomer's written the play for you.

Are you the parent of one of 2 million American kids who swear a blue streak, won’t sit still or obey and act out 24/7? Worried about a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD and the dizzying range of treatment options? Lisa Loomer’s written the play for you. To prepare “Distracted” she’s done all the research and assembled all the contradictory points of view. In its preem at the Mark Taper Forum, play may exhaust and at times dismay, but its fundamental warmth and sincerity are consistently disarming. And your attention will never wander.

Setup is as simple as the working-out is intricate: Jesse (Hudson Thames), the son of Mama (Rita Wilson) and Dad (Ray Porter), is 9 years old and a holy terror. Dad’s of the “he’ll outgrow it” school of thought, rejecting any disorder diagnosis let alone medication. His function is to act as the mouthpiece for skepticism, no matter what cause or treatment Mama investigates.

The distaff role, as rich as Dad is static, clings to a touching belief that someone, somewhere holds the key to Jesse’s mental health. It propels her into an endless loop of doctor appointments, clinic visits, parent-teacher conferences and backyard chats that lead to yet more doctor referrals.

Each diagnosis proves faulty; each remedy from the homeopathic to the hard drug falls short. Mama’s world starts to resemble a Wonderland with no way out of the rabbit hole.

Wilson rises to the demands of her role with aplomb. For much of act one she passively accepts professionals’ wisdom, but as Mama’s frustration deepens so does the intensity of Wilson’s attack. “Distracted” never reduces Mama to total fury or despair — a pity, since Wilson could readily play both and either would be justified — but she is always welcome as narrator and pal.

Challenged to name a single person who’s a good listener, she points to us. “They listen,” she murmurs. “Why do you think I talk to them?”

In its breaking of the fourth wall, satirical tone and fracturing of time, play resembles John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation” with a crucial difference in scope. While Guare takes on issues of capitalism and private behavior, speaking to the divide between individuals as well as between races, Loomer’s play is all ADD, all the time. Some will find the monomania oppressive, despite ample leavening humor and a host of colorful performances.

At one point play threatens to enter “Equus” territory in its concern that a Ritalin regimen might drain a child of imagination. Fortunately Loomer avoids the trap by acknowledging a possible middle ground between soulless sterility and Dionysian excess, and even has Bronson Pinchot drop character to make a case for the drug in the persona of an actor who takes it (“You think I would even remember my fucking lines if it weren’t for Ritalin? Before Ritalin, I couldn’t even get to my auditions on time!”)

Helmer Leonard Foglia keeps his skillful ensemble to a crackling pace. Particular kudos accrue to Johanna Day’s Supermom neighbor with an obsessive disorder of her own, and Stephanie Berry’s investing each of her characters with a life beyond ADD concerns. (As Jesse’s teacher she rocks the house when she asserts “My entire class is learning disabled when he’s there.” And watch her waitress: precise and true and hilarious.)

Pinchot demonstrates the versatility of a Groundlings virtuoso as four distinct doctors, at one point playing two simultaneously.

After two acts of deepening conundrum, denouement will strike aud as either maddeningly trite or magically right. Loomer has kept Jesse in an offstage upstairs room like the first Mrs. Rochester in “Jane Eyre,” his tantrums broadcast over the sound system. Mama realizes that … well, suffice to say it’s a remedy out of the earliest chapters of a “How to Parent” book, involving hugs and quality time.

As if she’d said “open sesame,” a panel atop the rear video wall reveals Jesse at last, in the pajamas he’s usually refused to don. For the first time Russell H. Champa has Elaine J. McCarthy’s entire platformed unit set light up — with a disco floor, no less — as Mama starts up Eminem’s “Mockingbird” and Jesse gleefully dances the night away.

So that’s all it takes? Making the kid the absolute center of attention after all? Some who have suffered through real-life childrearing crises may want to smack Loomer upside the head with a Merck’s Manual for proposing such a facile solution.

And yet, she’s right to suggest that what’s called for may be less frantic searching, and more old-fashioned talking and sharing. Taking time to enter a child’s world isn’t a sufficient step to alleviate what ails him, but almost certainly it’s a necessary one. In the last analysis, maybe it’s parents who need to be less distracted.


Mark Taper Forum; 745 seats; $50 top


A Center Theater Group presentation of a play in two acts by Lisa Loomer. Directed by Leonard Foglia.


Sets and projections, Elaine J. McCarthy; costumes, Robert Blackman; lighting, Russell H. Champa; sound design, Jon Gottlieb; production stage manager, David S. Franklin. Opened, reviewed March 25, 2007. Runs through April 29. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.


Mama - Rita Wilson Dad - Ray Porter Dr. Broder/Dr. Jinks/ Dr. Karnes/ Dr. Zavala - Bronson Pinchot Mrs. Holly/Dr. Waller/ Nurse/Carolyn/ Waitress - Stephanie Berry Vera - Johanna Day Sherry - Marita Geraghty Natalie - Emma Hunton Jesse - Hudson Thames
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