March 30 2011 12:00 AM

Smart script, superb cast make Peppermint Creek’s offbeat comedy a gem



Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. has done it again — fulfilled its stated mission of entertaining while raising awareness and encouraging dialogue.

This time it’s with “Distracted,” a smart, offbeat comedy by award-winning playwright Lisa Loomer, who also cowrote the screenplay for the film “Girl, Interrupted.” In “Distracted,” she looks at topics like Attention Deficit Disorder, the medical establishment, alternative medicine, parenting and the impact of our high technology world on genuine communication.

In a theme-setting first scene, we see the mother of 9-year-old Jesse, who may or may not have ADD, trying to meditate (always to the Prayer of St. Francis). Jesse is offstage, screaming out unreasonable demands and protests. He can’t get into or out of his pajamas, he refuses to eat, he won’t go to school because he’s terrified of fire drills, etc. In addition, Jesse’s teacher is sick of his disruptive classroom behavior and wants him tested for ADD.

The father thinks it’s just a case of “boys will be boys.” With that as backdrop, the mother embarks on a determined and often frustrating quest to “fix” her son. Along the way she encounters a more or less wacky array of characters, among them a child psychologist, a neurophysiologist, a family doctor who is also a homeopath and a psychiatrist who prescribes Ritalin for Jesse.

(In a 2009 interview during the off- Broadway run of “Distracted,” Loomer said she was inspired to write the play after her own son enrolled in school and she saw an increasing number of children being diagnosed with ADD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression, along with the increasing use of behavior-modifying stimulants like Ritalin.)

So perhaps it’s not surprising that “Distracted” is the mother’s story. It’s her journey, and Abby Murphy as the mother leaves no doubt about that. Hers is a powerhouse performance, honest and open-hearted. Onstage the entire time, Murphy is also consistently funny when she has to be. She is a joy to watch.

But there’s room also for others to shine. Brian De Vries, as the father who may have ADD himself, more than holds his own in the acting department. His warm, sympathetic portrayal of a character who could easily have been played one-dimensional makes him instead interesting and appealing.

The supporting cast of Kevin Bator, Kat Cooper, Angela M. Dill, Erin Hoffman, JC Kibbey, Kelly Stonebrook, and Mary Wardell is uniformly good, but there are standouts. One of them is Stonebrook, coolly elegant as child psychologist Dr. Zavala, who can deliver the f-word with aplomb and precision. She’s also hilarious, without hamming it up, as an über-distracted waitress.

A particular audience pleaser on opening night was Dill as obsessive-compulsive neighbor, Vera. Loomer has written her as a crisply unique character, and Dill makes the most of every word, look and movement.

Hoffman, who has multiple parts, is particularly perfect as Mrs. Holly, Jesse’s self-involved teacher. Hoffman makes her the personification of what every teachers’ union detractor thinks teachers are really like. Don’t let Governor Snyder meet Mrs. Holly.

We don’t see Kibbey as Jesse until the end of the play, although his voice has been heard throughout, loud and clear (he does a great fire drill).

When he finally appears on stage he’s all-child who has full-blown ADD — or does he? Maybe he’s just “a great kid” with his own “style”?

The script’s ending, while a bit tidy, doesn’t presume to answer that question. And, happily, nor does the Peppermint Creek production, under the able, experienced hand of director Lynn Lammers.

The answer is up to you.


Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. Creole Gallery 1218 Turner St., Lansing March 31-April 2 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sunday. $15, $10 students and seniors (517) 927-3016