Pay Attention

Review of Distracted at ArtsWest by Allison C.

Photo by Michael Brunk

I sit like a deer in headlights as the “actor with ADD” (Zach Adair) yells at me about Ritalin and how it has changed his life. Wait, no, is he Dr. Karnes now? No, maybe he’s Dr. Jinks? Before my mind can even really process these questions I’m drawn back to what he’s saying. The house lights are on, we’re making eye contact, and I feel like everything he’s saying is directed only at me. To tell the truth, I’m a little scared.

It’s hard to be distracted watching Distracted. I swear, I’m doing all I can to keep my mouth from gaping open like a fish. The plotline is fast-moving and extremely relevant to today, and the organization is compelling (and yes, a bit scary). Distracted follows a mom and dad dealing with their son’s diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Dad (played by Brandon Felker) refuses to believe that his son, Jesse (played by 12-year-old Cameron Lee), has a problem, and leaves Mama (played by Heather Hawkins) to sift through the conflicting advice she gets from doctors, therapists, teachers, and neighbors to find a way to help him. With a seemingly endless flow of media from screen projections of email, the news, Facebook, Wii, and TV, the play blurs the line between ADHD and the modern lifestyle. It makes me question if the increase in ADHD diagnoses is due to medical improvement, or the avalanche of new technological distractions. Between online shopping, phone calls, TiVo, and work, let alone their son, Mama and Dad barely even find time to discuss anything. At times they appear even more distracted than Jesse. The battle against our impersonally technological world is hardly unique, yet the play stands out in my mind.

Photo by Michael Brunk

There seems to be a trend in shows aimed to portray the struggle over whether or not to medicate for mental illness (like Next to Normal playing at the 5th Ave Theatre). The familial struggle is not outstandingly different from other productions, either, but what makes this play different is the way it is presented. The actors openly admit that they are playing multiple roles and sometimes go out of character, asking who they are supposed to be playing. Mama often speaks directly to the audience and even acknowledges the fact that she is on stage. Instead of ruining the illusion of looking into a family’s actual life, it strengthens the play, making it seem more personal. What we see is what the characters openly choose to tell us. We are their listeners, their confidants. It is our job to take what they tell us and learn from it.

Distracted left me feeling like I had gained something. Something mental or emotional, I can’t tell. I feel like a more aware and weathered person. It is as if I was Mama, and I had just lived through her life, taking the lessons she learned along with me. I am ready to face the world with new eyes. My mind is clear of its usual technological buzz. Don’t let me get distracted.

Through April 2

Ages 14+ for adult language and themes

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