“Is Ritalin a better mother than I am?”
When Cynthia Nixon’s character asks that question halfway through Distracted, we feel her frustration. Unable to calm down her nine year-old so he can manage everyday chores like getting dressed for school, making friends, sitting in class, and putting on his pajamas at night, she wonders whether a drug will succeed where she has failed. And what does that say about her as a mother that she is willing to drug her child to reestablish order in her own life?
In the end, the audience will leave feeling as conflicted as Nixon’s “Mama.” There are no easy answers in the world of A.D.D. Why are we seeing so much attention deficit disorder in our kids? What causes this condition? The environment? Pesticides? Food additives? Is it genetic? Does the cacophony of everyday life induce this disorder or just make it worse?
Lisa Loomer, the playwright, said she wrote the play after her own son entered school and she was shocked at the number of children being diagnosed as A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. (the “H” adding the hyperactivity factor) and put on Ritalin. A.D.D. kids, particularly if they are also hyperactive, are a challenge for schools. While a parent may be willing to put up with the chaos at home, schools are less forgiving. Thus begin the rounds of testing, psychiatrists, nutritionists, allergists, anyone and everyone who can give an opinion and offer a solution.
Parents, too, are often at odds. We see this in Distracted when Dad, played by Josh Stamberg, tells Mama that he will divorce her if she puts his son on medication. Nixon’s character struggles to make the right decision, but who should she believe? Everyone comes to the A.D.D. debate with an agenda. The teacher wants to restore order to her classroom. The psychiatrist, who admits his own attention problems, wants to prescribe the medication. The neighbor, whose own son is thriving on Ritalin, wants her position validated. And Dad, whose maniac behavior during the play suggests the genetic link, wants his son to grow up like he did, just being a kid.
For the bulk of the play, the child, Jesse, played by Matthew Gumley, is heard offstage interrupting his parents’ lives at regular intervals. Mama can’t meditate, she and Dad can’t make love without Jesse making his presence known. Yet he is portrayed, not as a child, but as a condition to be dealt with. If he has become the center of their world, he has done so while shaking that world to its core. No matter what decision these parents finally make, we know that Jesse’s story is just beginning.
A Play by Lisa Loomer
A Roundabout Theater Production
Laura Pels Theatre
111 West 46th Street