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LA Theater Review

Distracted

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Lisa Loomer's hilarious and deeply moving new play follows a mother's quest to discover the right thing to do for her 8-year-old son, diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Can she rescue him from his presumed psychological prison, or does he even need help? Is our high-tech world — overrun with impersonal and disruptive communications gadgetry — the culprit in obscuring our ability to focus on what's important? Loomer brilliantly explores complex social issues without supplying easy answers.

The nameless matriarch (Rita Wilson) clashes with her also nameless husband (Ray Porter) about the best treatment for their son, while their neighbors (Marita Geraghty, Johanna Day) likewise deal with children afflicted with apparent behavioral disorders, such as a teenage girl (Emma Hunton) who periodically "cuts." Doctors, nutritionists, teachers, and psychologists send Wilson's character down conflicting paths, suggesting a plethora of disparate medical, homeopathic, and educational treatments. Loomer raises a fascinating question: Might treatments for ADHD break the patient's spirit and capacity for self-expression?

Wilson delivers a rich and empathetic performance, from the early scenes of humorous bewilderment to her cathartic moments of poignancy and acceptance. Porter likewise gives a finely nuanced portrayal. Day garners the biggest laughs as the obsessive Vera, a likelier ADHD patient than the children. Bronson Pinchot displays versatility in four doctor roles, but his broad comic shtick sometimes feels like it's in the wrong play. Stephanie Berry lends marvelous support in a variety of roles. Young Hudson Thames is superb, supplying the boisterous offstage voice of mom's problem child and making the most of a climactic surprise.

Director Leonard Foglia oversees a striking production design, driving home Loomer's points about information overload. Jon Gottlieb's nerve-racking sound effects, Russell H. Champa's dizzying lighting transitions, and set and projection designer Elaine J. McCarthy's barrage of television images create a crackling milieu. Presentational conventions — actors announcing new scenes and breaking the fourth wall to speak about their roles — embellish the appropriately discordant tone.

The script could use trimming. Some plot points feel drawn out and redundant, and certain gags — such as one characterizing President George W. Bush's leadership as an ADHD reign — are milked too long. Yet Loomer's lovely and vital play — ending on a sweet note of hope — gets an impeccably crafted premiere rendition.

Presented by Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A. Tue.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2:30 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Mar. 25-Apr. 29. (213) 628-2772. www.centertheatregroup.org.

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