DISTRACTED, an Arizona premiere

Producer/Director Randy Messersmith of the Theatre Arts program at Scottsdale Community College has brought to Phoenix a very funny and poignant play chronicling a mother’s journey to discover the roots of her 9-year-old son’s behavior challenges.  In “Distracted,” playwright Lisa Loomer (“The Waiting Room,” “Girl, Interrupted”) introduces us to the character of Mama (played with engaging pathos tempered with humor by SCC Theatre Arts student Elizabeth Athetis), who is searching for the right diagnosis as she visits with teachers, psychotherapists and neighbors to determine if AD/HD is the cause and, if so, what to do about it. 

The play addresses the tension of this mother’s journey and the humanity of how AD/HD impacts a family, especially one in which husband and wife have different points of view about the validity of the disorder and the dilemma of whether or not to medicate. According to Messersmith, Loomer prefers to “pose the questions and not give the answers” in this play that presents a balanced perspective of the varying points of view among doctors, teachers, parents. 

I agree with Mr. Messersmith’s comment that while this is a “message play,”, it is “not pedantic or lecturing in any way.” Rather there is a lot of food for thought introduced to the audience in the natural course of the script’s dialogue. By the end of the evening, I was aware that my emotions had been tweaked and that preconceived notions were not necessarily as clear cut as I once believed. I emerged from the talk-back session with a renewed sense of compassion and understanding that every family must reach the decisions that they feel are best for them.

For more than 19 years, Messersmith has worked with drama students — first as a teacher at Desert Mountain High School and since 2006 as theatre arts director of SCC’s Theatre Arts program. “In high school, I always knew which students had an IEP or 504 plan and could plan classwork accordingly,” he says. “But after high school, it’s the opposite. FERPA (Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act) means that unless a student self-discloses, or registers with Disability Services on campus, professors might not be aware of any issues that may affect a student’s success in class.”

“Distracted” came to Messersmith’s attention when he was at a small theater in San Diego county.  There he learned that Loomer’s play had been produced but was not yet published. So Messersmith purchased the rights to the script, intrigued by the opportunity to bring the play to an educational institution and incorporate the students’ points of view for the Arizona premiere. 

During last evening’s presentation, it occurred to me that the actors’ performances could easily have succumbed to just being caricatures of the various personalities and professionals that they played. But deftly guided by Messersmith, and bringing their own perspectives to bear, the cast members authentically portrayed each character. Anyone who has been around the block searching for answers to the AD/HD conundrum will recognize people they have met along the way. 

The nuance that each actor brings to his/her parts (several of them actually play multiple and very disparate roles) reflects the care of Messersmith’s treatment of Loomer’s well-crafted script.

The production crew does a fine job of bringing value to each light bulb and prop. The jumping and jiggling letters of the play’s title greet the audience as they are seated, immediately setting the stage for what is to come. Computer-driven graphics and video that serve as the backdrops to each scene become like additional characters in the play. Scene changes manipulated by the cast members themselves occur seamlessly and become part of the performance as a whole. The play’s humor carries the message of how we all get distracted and how we stay on task. Even the actors get distracted and break character!

The performances are being held at Theatre Artists Studio near Tatum & Cactus while the SCC theater undergoes renovations.  Call 480-423-6359 to reserve tickets (recommended due to limited space for seating). Remaining show times are 7pm Nov. 6 and 2 & 7pm Nov. 7. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $8 for students (bring a valid ID) and senior citizens (55+)  Due to some strong language and mature content, the play is not recommended for students under age 16. — Debbie Isard