Thursday, March 5, 2009



By Lisa Loomer, Directed by Mark Brokaw. At Roundabout Theatre. (CLOSED)

Who knew that an issue comedy about ADHD, its causes, roots and treatments could prove so divisive? Lisa Loomer's new play at the Roundabout gets three As (From squish-named publications TimeOut, TalkinBroadway and CurtainUp) while also earning a C- from Ben Brantley at the Times and a D from Variety. Boosters praise Mark Brokaw's frenetic direction, Cynthia Nixon's adept performance and Loomer's metatheatrical cleverness. Detractors find the play simultaneously shallow and heavy handed, particularly in its second act.

UPDATE: New York Mag's late-breaking D review brings the grade down from B to B-

TimeOut NY A
(David Cote) A giddily clever comedy about parenting in the age of attention deficit disorder...Distracted is my favorite comedy of the year so far, a spring-jointed issue play hyperactive enough to tickle both your brain and your funny bone... Loomer’s dizzyingly fast-thinking script is a model of economy and wit, and if she doesn’t dwell too long on a particular scene, that’s so much the better.

CurtainUp A
(Elyse Sommer) Lisa Loomer has done it again. She's simultaneously written a riotously funny play and tackled an important social issue. She's applied her gift for blending comedy with problems caused or exacerbated by the world we live in to the extremes women go to... Not the least of this funny yet disturbing play's pleasures can be attributed to its clever structure with its amusing and apt meta-theatrical detours and the way some subsidiary characters are written to be multiple cast. Another major plus is the flair with which Director Mark Brokaw and his designers' have executed Ms. Loomer's vision for the look and feel of the play: a minimally furnished set but one wired to evoke the ADD-prone world so that laptops, iphones and TV screens are always present and ready to shift locales and --well, to distract.

TalkinBroadway A
(Matthew Murray) Some plays ask you to become a part of their world; others demand it. But very few grab your collar and yank you into them, while turning your protestations into laughs and gasps of bedazzlement. Lisa Loomer’s Distracted does exactly this, and Mark Brokaw’s production of it for Roundabout (at the Laura Pels Theatre) only makes it more dizzying and captivatingly indigestible

Lighting And Sound America A
(David Barbour) It's probably not surprising that Loomer, whose wonderful play The Waiting Room offered a devastating critique of the American health care system, might be drawn to this subject matter. I have to imagine that many in the audience -- those, say, with children like Jesse -- may take offense at her bluntly hilarious treatment of modern therapeutic cant. (Indeed, there were a few walkouts at the performance I attended.) That's the more reason to thank Roundabout for challenging its audiences with this provocative satire. In any event, Distracted has more than enough attitude to hold your attention rapt for two hours of thought-provoking comedy.

TheaterMania B+
(Sandy MacDonald) The evening rests squarely on Nixon, who must sustain an aura of frantic desperation from word one without ever wearing on our nerves, and the Tony Award-winning star is uniquely equipped to handle the task. Micro-moods flit across her features, and she is always on the move, whether slumping into a last-ditch lotus position, slapping together PB&Js, or screeching back at that young demon offstage. For her part, Loomer studies the to-medicate-or-not-to-medicate controversy from every angle, like a child intrigued by a shiny object. Yet, in the end, Distracted is not a dull medical treatise but a wake-up call encoded in nonstop laughter.

(Michael Kuchwara) Lisa Loomer's theatrical primer on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a smartly comic, sharply observant and surprisingly humane play involving a 9-year-old boy and his bewildered parents, particularly his mother. The production, which the Roundabout Theatre Company opened Wednesday at its off-Broadway Laura Pels Theatre, is also superbly directed by Mark Brokaw. He gives the exhaustingly detailed story a clarity that never falters despite the twists and turns of a rapidly unfolding plot.

Hartford Courant B+
(Malcolm Johnson) Nixon, who won a Theatre World Award at the age of 14 and subsequently appeared simultaneously in David Rabe's Hurlyburly and Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, has grown into an actor with remarkable comic timing, fully exhibited in this production. She carries this production brilliantly and tellingly as Mama explores a place where pills rain down endlessly. B
(Robert Feldberg) Distracted is diverting. It’s also an “illness of the week” kind of play, which puts a cap on its dramatic possibilities

NYPost B
(Elisabeth Venticelli) Loaded with talking points - nature vs. nurture, shrinking attention spans, Ritalin - "Distracted" could easily have turned into the kind of anguished naturalistic melodrama even Lifetime doesn't do anymore. Thankfully, Loomer ("Living Out") is too skilled to fall into that hoary trap, and her metatheatrical tricks inject welcome levity into a fraught topic... frustration seeps in by the second act. Assuming we won't get all of her Big Themes on our own, Loomer spells them out repeatedly, then underlines them with thick Sharpie strokes.

Wall St. Journal B-
(Terry Teachout) Distracted isn't nearly as taut or disciplined a piece of work as Living Out. It's journalistic to a fault -- the characters spend too much time telling us interesting things about ADD instead of interacting with one another -- and it also succumbs at annoyingly frequent intervals to the kind of self-conscious humor that makes you wonder whether Ms. Loomer lacks confidence in her ability to hold an audience's attention by being serious... On the other hand, Distracted is also smart, funny and genuinely felt, and Mark Brokaw, the director, keeps the action flying by so fast that the weaker parts of the script are gone almost before you know it.

Backstage B-
(Andy Propst) Brokaw's staging unfolds with a whiz-bang efficiency... still, despite the emotionally charged subject matter and well-crafted performances, Distracted never fully engages the heart. Laughter abounds, and there is food for thought, but the overall experience is a bit like quickly scrolling through thousands of blog posts, tweets, and Facebook status updates: diverting, entertaining, but insubstantial.

Newsday C
(Linda Winer) Engaging but predictable... this territory hasn't been fresh since phones had cords. Despite Mark Brokaw's amusing sensory-overloaded staging and a big, versatile cast, [Loomer's] answer never gets more provocative than her questions.

NYTimes C-
(Ben Brantley) An attractively acted production starring Cynthia Nixon [that] often feels like little more than a compilation of jokes and observations that have been made, ad nauseam, about this disorder during the last decade. Even if your mind operates like an over-revved automatic channel surfer, it is still bound to have registered — perhaps while hovering hummingbirdlike over a sitcom moment, a comic strip about a multitasking mom or a column in a parents’ magazine — much of what is said here.

New York Magazine D
(Scott Brown) Lisa Loomer’s Distracted is a fast, frazzled, made-for-TV dramedy that’s so strenuously au courant, it may already be obsolete... Watching [Cynthia Nixon[ get emotional over the atypically attentive ministrations of an Indian customer-service representative is a treat. In the end, though, these characters are types, emotional crash-test dummies, and, as such, I kept expecting Loomer to be rougher with them. But ultimately, she’s after consolation, not art.

Variety D
(David Rooney) There's a difference between asking an audience to witness the challenges of understanding and coping with a neurobehavioral disorder and forcing them unrelentingly to experience that state. Most of us are stressed enough already, OK? Director Mark Brokaw has assembled an able cast, empathetically captained by Cynthia Nixon as the frazzled mother teetering on the edge of desperation, whose full-time job has become seeking treatment for her 9-year-old son, Jesse. But the production is so manic and the play's insights telegraphed so insistently that it slides from funny to cutesy to abrasive. That downward trajectory happens way before it's wrapped up with a simplistic conclusion that undermines Mama's ordeal and the experience of folks exposed to similar situations in the real world.

TONY A 13; CU A 13; TB A 13; LASA A 13; AP B+ 11; HC B+ 11; NJ B 10; NYP B 10; BS B- 9; WSJ B- 9; ND C 7; NYT C- 6; NYMag D 4; V D 4; TOTAL = 133 / 14 = 9.b (B/B-)

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