Distracted

Ashland, OR
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Distracted at Oregon ShakespeareDistracted  by Lisa Loomer

The cacophony of cell phones, bad hip hop, and telemarketing calls is familiar. The witty commentary on our overstimulated life is satisfying and relaxing.  The faux concerned neighbors, teachers, and doctors are so recognizable that they’re disarming.

The script is sufficiently pleasant and smugness-producing that it takes a while for the realization to develop that you’re watching a Neil Simon commentary on ADHD, teenage self-mutilation, and some true terrors of parenthood.

The dialog nails the thoughts and conversations of today’s educated middle-class.  The Ashland audience is watching itself on stage, and it’s mesmerizing to see yourself treated so sympathetically and so skillfully.

In a world-class case of bad marketing and inaccurate labeling, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) says that the play is about a 9-year-old boy with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Their synopsis makes the play sound like something only a school guidance counselor would enjoy… and then only if they got continuing education credits. No surprise that the crowds for this new play are sparse, and the in-going audiences look like hardened play goers gearing up for a nasty two hours.

So, if you’ve read OSF’s literature about Distracted, forget everything you’ve been told.  The play is about 2007 and its social mores. It’s lively. You’ll laugh. There’s a message.  People change.  Who would have thought?

Robin Rodriguez as the mother hits exactly the right note and attitude.  She starts the play by meditating in center stage, and its her personality that carries us though moments of desperation, anguish, and love.  This is her play.

Which is not to say that U Jonathan Toppo (Dad), Gwendolyn Mulamba (teacher and others), Vilma Silva (neighbor), Judith-Marie Bergen (another neighbor) , Caroline Shaffer (physiologist and others), Thom Rivera (pediatrician and others), Kjerstine Anderson (Natalie, the teenage neighbor), and James Edson (the boy) are slouches.  Every last one of these actors deserve their portion of the standing ovation that was given at the end.  Seeing Toppo excel at a straight role was particularly gratifying since he has been mainly limited to fight coaching and beefcake expositions.

The set, too, was perfect with a neon/fluorescent feel and hyper video monitors hanging down from the open stage. The projected images were in sync with the narration and also kept the audience’s eyes moving.  Everything has to keep moving, doesn’t it?

There is but one clinker in the collage of themes and stories — that’s a brief, unnecessary association of President Bush with the worst symptoms of ADD children.  This self-indulgent lapse stupidly pegs the story in time and brings an unfunny note into an already emotionally full story.

But fortunately, ultimately, it is the writing and its skilled, amusing way of holding up the mirror to our electronically charged selves that controls the evening, stimulates our thoughts, and earns most cheering. 

Distracted amuses us and then tells us a few important things about our lives. That’s a great evening of theater.

Ozdachs rating: 5 Syntaxes Out of 5.

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