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NY Theater Reviews

Cynthia Nixon, Peter Benson & Josh Stamberg/Ph: Joan Marcus

PILL POPPING POSSIBILITIES

By ROBERT CASHILL

When are growing pains just that...Do they need to be super analyzed and acted upon. No wonder "Mama" is fried and Distracted.

A warm Cynthia Nixon tries hard to keep her cool in Lisa Loomer's observant farce Distracted. One of our best stage actresses, Nixon is ideally cast as an every-mom, referred to simply as Mama, whose manageably stressful life is going into hyper-drive as her nine-year-old son begins exhibiting signs of Attention Deficit Disorder. (What we see, or rather hear, are his four-letter tirades, and reports of his wavering school performance.) Dad (Josh Stamberg) sees Jesse's worrisome behavior as a bump in the road. But neighboring moms, the ultra-competitive Sherry (Mimi Lieber) and the over-medicated Vera (Lisa Emery, who squeezes every drop of mean humor from a modest part), and a disapproving teacher (Aleta Mitchell), fear a car wreck in the making. Their grim prognosis sends Mama to a robotic shrink (Natalie Gold), a roundelay of doctors (all played by Peter Benson), and finally to the drugstore, to pick up a Ritalin prescription for her tantrum-plagued son. That the controversial cure may be worse than the questionably diagnosed disease drives a wedge between the beleaguered parents.

Loomer has done her homework the medical and psychiatric details feel authoritative as Mama weighs the pros and cons of each new therapy, a quest that eventually takes her to a New Mexico clinic for far-out holistic treatment. More importantly, the emotions are well grounded, the laughs materialize from someplace concrete, as when the web-browsing Mama develops an online shoe-buying fetish. Most affecting is the character of Natalie, played by Shana Dowdeswell-Sherry's teenage daughter, and Jesse's babysitter, she's been through the therapy wringer, but continues to cut herself, victimized by a nameless pain.

Director Mark Brokaw keeps the production at full frazzle. Mark Wendland's two-tiered set pulses with an array of projections supplied by Tal Yarden-the news reports, websites, iPod track listings, and DVD scenes that conspire to drive all of us to distraction. It's all too much, so much so that the fourth wall occasionally breaks and the play comes tumbling into our laps, a clever device that is more than just a gimmick. In one way or another we're all on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and in danger of forgetting ourselves. With the believably anxious, and believably sane, Nixon as our guide through the psyche's rough patches, Distracted reminds us to stay the course.