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TheatreWorks presents Lisa Loomer's play about a mother and her struggle to understand her troubled child

Like a child with ADD, Lisa Loomer’s Distracted, presented by TheatreWorks, darts impulsively from scene to scene. Actors abruptly enter ongoing monologues, which they interrupt with fast-paced dialogue, before exiting, their services no longer required. Chairs are wheeled into view from offstage before being hustled into position by the actors themselves. We are meant to share the sense of hurry. Indeed, we are meant to be participants. Throughout the play, the protagonist, Mama (Rebecca Dines), speaks directly to us about her 9-year-old, ADD-diagnosed son, Jesse (Gabriel Hoffman). And our presence is even more directly acknowledged by Dr. Jinks (Cassidy Brown), whom Loomer scripts to “confess” his childhood as an ADD kid, as well as his current dependence on Ritalin to remember his lines. Predictably, all this contrived honesty grows tiresome.

Loomer’s Mama is on an emotional and intellectual journey to understand why her son is so unfocused, so distracted, that his overworked teacher (Elizabeth Carter) is recommending him for special ed. Based on the set, whose blocky backdrop is often consumed by multiple projections of TV and computer screens, you might think technological overload is the cause of Jesse’s ailment, but Mama and Dad (Robert Yacko) are greater slaves to their electronic devices than Jesse appears to be. Based on the soundtrack, you might think the playwright blames rap, but according to the first specialist Mama sees, an overly huggy, Birkenstock-shod homeopath named Daniel (Cassidy Brown), Jesse’s woes could be cured by the elimination of dust. Or not. Of course, the doctors on parade here all want to put the kid on drugs, which Dad strenuously objects to. He’s the kids-should-be-allowed-to-be-kids advocate. Loomer lets Mama dabble with all of these approaches as if money were no object to this middle-class couple. As for Jesse, Hoffman performs all his profanity-laced lines from offstage—we don’t see the lad until the play’s final scene.

Naturally, interaction with the child, which is so calculatedly absent from the play, also appears to be the thing that Loomer believes is missing from the ADD debate. What children with attention-deficit disorder really need, she suggests, none too subtly, is attention. We get lots of contact between Mama and Natalie (Jayne Deely), Jesse’s troubled-teen baby sitter, and even between Mama and Vera (Suzanne Grodner), a medicated, socially impaired neighbor. Indeed, I found the simple scene between the mom and her son, with dad benignly looking on, to be so improbably touching that Loomer’s manipulation of saving it for the end worked on me. But the trick comes at the expense of a more valuable, and honest, portrayal of ADD. What would more attention and interaction look like? How quickly would it wear thin and what strategies might Loomer’s characters take to get through the tough times? At the end of Distracted, all we can do is wonder.

DISTRACTED plays Tuesday–Wednesday at 7:30pm, Thursday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 8pm (also at 2pm on April 11 and 18) and Sunday at 2pm (also at 7pm on April 19 and 26) through April 26 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St. Tickets are $23–$61. (650.903.6000)

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