AUTHORS’ NOTE: This production of Distracted, written by Lisa Loomer and produced by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan Theatre Company, is a “Lillian Chason production.” Lillian Chason was a UNC Department of Dramatic Art student who died during the winter of 2009 — her first year at UNC. Her parents established two funds in her honor, one of which is “The Lillian Chason Excellence Fund,” which produces plays dedicated to her memory. In our opinion, this production of this play is an excellent tribute to Ms. Chason; and we recommend it.
In this UNC student presentation of Distracted, “Mama” (played by Emma Scaggs) has a story to tell. Jesse, her nine-year-old son (portayed by Rebekah Dare Guin), has serious behavioral issues; and she and “Dad” are prepared to do whatever it takes to “cure” him. Is his condition ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)? What course of action should they take?
Naturally, everybody they meet is an “expert”; and every bit of “expert advice” points to a different solution. Curiously, among the various discussions of “treatments” and “cures,” we hear one of the experts say that Jesse is “the most interesting person I’ve ever met.”
Playwright Lisa Loomer uses an interesting device: she has Mama tell her story by speaking directly to the audience, and then “calling in” other characters to act out certain scenes for us. Several of the characters break the Fourth Wall numerous times. (In some cases, it would be more correct to say they “totally obliterate” the Fourth Wall.) This method of storytelling is interesting, informative, and entertaining. Watch for surprising twists as Mama “casts” these little vignettes and as they play out.
The play begins with a cacophony of noises, emanating from onstage television sets — enough, as they say, to drive anyone to distraction. The lights come up; it is early morning, and Mama is trying to meditate, reciting a St. Francis prayer repeatedly. Her attempts to attain tranquility are frustrated by one distraction after another. And then Jesse wakes up, ending once and for all any chance of a day without distraction.
As Mama, Emma Scaggs is thoroughly engaging. There were times that we felt she was speaking directly to us as individuals (rather than to the entire audience as a crowd). She shows remarkable versatility as she slips seamlessly between her talk-to-the-audience mode and her interact-with-other-characters mode. The role is quite demanding, and she rises to the challenge.
As Dad, Graham Prevatte is also impressive. Prevatte is able to convey an obvious ambivalence in Mama and Dad’s feelings about their son, as well as about all of the issues pertaining to him and to their family. At a crucial point, he sums up one of his overwhelming feelings: “I want a normal child.”
On “date night,” Natalie comes to baby-sit. This neighborhood teenager has problems of her own, and Danielle Schaefer gives this character the right dose of a “yeah-whatever” exterior and a tender, vulnerable interior. Natalie’s tastes in boys and music are icing on the cake that Schaefer serves.
Speaking of “problems of their own,” Molly Looman (as Vera) and Makayla Hamrick (as Sherry) show us very entertaining “types” who inhabit the neighborhood. They provide plenty of laughs while serving as foils to the central characters.
Rebekah Guin plays Jesse. While the boy has very little stage time (blink during his first scene and you’ll miss him), we do hear him frequently as he makes his comments from his room upstairs. During a later scene, Guin instantly earns our affection for the character.
Rachel Blennerhassett, James Scalise, and Zavier Taylor round out the cast, each playing several roles, sometimes slipping back and forth within an ongoing scene. They affect multiple personalities, multiple accents, and multiple postures — and they all do their jobs well.
The play runs an hour and 45 minutes, without intermission. Director Tiffany Nichole Green keeps things moving briskly and makes interesting choices, keeping us engaged throughout. She makes full use of the space, having characters enter from a variety of points, often in an unconventional fashion. Props and costume accessories also arrive onstage by unexpected means. Sight gags abound, but are never intrusive.
Alex LaGrand and Kevin Pendergas team up as scenic designers. On half of the stage, we see a fully fleshed-out kitchen and a staircase leading up to the second floor where Jesse spends most of his time in his room. Stage left and downstage are undefined acting areas that morph into various locations. Actors bring on a couch or a blackboard or office chairs as needed to establish a living room or a classroom or a restaurant, etc.
Costume designer Whitney Edmonds augments the production nicely, giving some of the actors quite an array of character-specific costumes. Some actors have a plethora of costume changes.
The theme of distraction is pervasive. Pay particular attention to the foibles of the “date night” sequence. Jesse is by no means the only character who has problems paying attention.
The play is a vehicle for discussion of our attitudes toward mental health and our methods of dealing with the subject. A variety of views are examined, and we never got the feeling that any one in particular was being endorsed. Bring an appetite for food-for-thought.
Sadly, this production only plays one weekend; the run, however, includes two performances on Sunday and one on Monday night; and tickets are quite affordable: only $10 for adults and $8 for students. Catch it if you can!
The Kenan Theatre Company presents DISTRACTED at 8 p.m. Oct. 15, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 16, and 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $10 (FREE for UNC Drama Majors, $3 for members of the Greek community, and $5 for other students).
BOX OFFICE: http://drama.unc.edu/ktctickets/.
2016-17 KTC SEASON: http://drama.unc.edu/ktc_currentseason/.
Distracted (2009 Off-Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3967 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/4832 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Lisa Loomer (playwright and screenwriter): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/8444 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0519666/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_Loomer (Wikipedia).
Tiffany Nichole Greene (director): http://www.tiffanynicholegreene.com/ (official website).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.