Betsy Thompson Henderson stakes her claim to the title of the Triangle’s finest actress in Raleigh Ensemble Players’ splendidly staged and brilliantly acted production of Distracted by New York playwright and screenwriter Lisa Loomer. Henderson’s heartfelt portrayal of the increasingly frazzled mother of Jesse (Ryan Hinn), a nine-year-old boy who could be the poster child for Attention Deficit Disorder and is about to step on his mom’s last nerve, is a nicely nuanced performance that surely will be remembered when it comes time to hand out the acting honors for the 2011 season.
Henderson’s charismatic characterization of Mama and Jason Daniel Sharp’s passionate portrait of Dad are two of the many delights in REP’s spirited staging of Lisa Loomer’s offbeat Off-Broadway comedy/drama about a pair of concerned parents who become increasingly desperate about what to do with their foul-mouthed hyperactive nine year old — nicely played by Ryan Hinn — who’s mostly heard and not seen. Jesse’s teachers’ and doctors’ knee-jerk diagnosis that Jesse has ADD and suggestion that the parents give their son Ritalin or some other mood-altering medication is an anathema to Dad, who believes that Jesse is basically a normally boy with ants in his pants.
Brenda Lo, Page Purgar, and especially Jesse R. Gephart contribute zany comic cameos as a motley assortment of teachers, doctors, etc., who weigh in — in favor of pharmaceuticals — to curb Jesse’s behavioral problems. Amy Bossi-Nasiatka adds an amusing bit as a glum neighbor named Vera, Whitney Griffin gives a chilling performance as Jesse’s troubled teenaged babysitter, and Judy Long plays Sherry.
Raleigh Ensemble Players artistic director C. Glen Matthews also deserves kudos for staging this provocative piece at a breakneck pace, with actors breaking character to address the audience directly, and actors and stagehands tossing props to other actors onstage during the performance. Matthews and managing director Gary Williams have assembled a crackerjack cast, and used them to whip up a tasty comic soufflé about a thorny and very timely topic. Distracted is a scathing satire of the education and medical establishments, but it raises difficult questions, and REP patrons will leave the theater with lots to chew over.
SECOND OPINION: May 11th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/raleigh-ensemble-players-distracted/Content?oid=2454682; and May 4th WUNC/91/5 FM interview of Gary Williams, Betsy Henderson, and Page Purgar by Amber Nimocks and Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/Raleigh_Ensemble_Players.mp3/view. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the May 7th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/05/lisa-loomers-distracted-is-an-offbeat-off-broadway-comedy-about-attention-deficit-disorder/.)
Raleigh Ensemble Players present DISTRACTED at 8 p.m. May 14, 7 p.m. May 15, and 8 p.m. May 18-21 at 213 Fayetteville St., Raleigh North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $20 ($15 students and educators, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except May 18th pay-what-you-can performance and $10 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain).
BOX OFFICE/GROUP RATES: 919/832-9607, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.realtheatre.org/box_office.html.
The Play: http://www.dramatists.com/ (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_Loomer (Wikipedia), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0519666/ (Internet Movie Database).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.
To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.