Getting attention

Carpenter Square Theatre presents a challenging play in Lisa Loomer’s Distracted, about a family with a child who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Carpenter Square bills the play as a comedy, and although Loomer tells the story with a certain amount of humor, it’s a stretch to call it a comedy.

Directed by Rhonda Clark, the production has deficiencies, but a few things make it a qualified success. First is Loomer’s revealing, if didactic, script.

You’ll learn what hell families with ADHD can go through as Loomer tells this difficult story by manipulating theatrical conventions: scenes overlap; actors break character; they speak directly to the audience; and switch instantly back and forth between characters.

In dealing with their son’s condition, the Cara family gets deeply involved with the medical-industrial complex from seemingly competent professionals who disagree about treatments to outright quackery.

And how do you know if someone has ADHD or is being “just a boy”? As the character Mama says: “‘Average’ is such a sad word nowadays. Everything’s got to be ‘excellent!’

‘Excellent’ is the new ‘good.’” In a revealing scene, Mama and Dad argue about starting their son on drugs or just tolerating aberrant behavior. They face a true dilemma: a choice between two unfavorable alternatives.

Mona Campbell plays Mama and carries the show with a winning personality and extraordinary endurance.

Campbell rarely leaves stage and gives the character a determination and tenacity that border on divine.

Mama desperately wants to do what’s best for her 9-year-old son, Jesse, but with the conveyor belt of information about ADHD that’s flying by on the Internet and such varied and contradictory advice about treatment, how can a parent make a decision with any confidence?

Mama doesn’t get much help from Dad (David Burkhart), who’s always rushing off to work. Although, to be fair, he is as concerned about doing right for Jesse as she is.

Making his CST debut as Jesse is Ian McDougall, who’s just finishing the seventh grade, but can still play kid roles. He gives a strong performance of which seasoned professionals would be proud — and I’m not cutting him any slack because of this youth.

has written some difficult, profane, highly realistic dialogue and
scenes involving Jesse. I don’t want to overstate the case, but
McDougall’s performance is among the best of the year.

By the conclusion of the play, the Cara family — and the audience — are rather worn down by all they’ve been through.

But Distracted’s denouement of is one of the sweetest and most oddly poignant endings of a play that you will ever see.

Larry Laneer

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