BWW Reviews: DISTRACTED at the University of Montana
David Ives is noted to have said the following: "Ultimately one has to pity these poor souls who know every secret about writing, directing, designing, producing, and acting but are stuck in those miserable day jobs writing reviews. Will somebody help them, please?" This quote has haunted me in various shades since I began that path of pity, but the exact magnitude of the misery did not fully hit me until I witnessed Distracted at the University of Montana's Masquer Theatre. The force of its presentation mandated a sudden sense of stage-envy (as all good products invariably should), and left me horribly torn between my engagement in the show and the repeated question in my skull: "How in the hell did these guys get to be so lucky as to do this production?"
Distracted chronicles the story of a suburban mother, her husband, their young son, and the continuing struggles they have in treating his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Presented in round-style seating, the show is a whirl of characters, shifts in temporal dimension, and conflicts of both a subtle and extreme nature. A nod of true appreciation needs to be given to actress Kelly Bouma, who, in the role of the troubled mother, did not allow a vast array of exponential and potentially cipherish to text turn her character into nothing more than a vehicle for everyone else's action. Bouma's precision, acting intuition, and her ability to find truth in a scene allowed her not only to be a standout in a plethora of wildly more attractive characters, but to control the dramatic structure of the show in an empathetic sense. Unlike Company's Bobby or Wonderland's Alice, she was a driving force of dramatic conflict instead of merely someone to which the action happened. I very much got the sense that this could have been a danger in this part when surrounded by so many dynamic roles, but Ms. Bouma refused to be boring for a moment. That's talent defined.
Thankfully, she is our first glimpse to a cast that matches her in all things important: of particular standout is Elizabeth Bennett as a young scene girl who avidly cuts herself -- Ms. Bennett's youthful energy and grasp of modern teenage delivery is highly convincing (not to mention entertaining); Nathan Adkins as an overly touchy homeopathic doctor who manages to capture the comedy of his role in its realism and not in its gimmicks; and Thain Bertin, who jumps ridiculously from a sterile doctor to a Ritalin-promoting actor with such verve that one might actually think that the performer is undergoing testing for methylphenidate himself. With so much good happening in one cast, it is impossible to touch on everyone, lest I exceed my word count.
Of definite note is the design -- Yana Dryden's conjuration of the world of Distracted is so aesthetically pleasing, formulaic, and effective that it begs to be mentioned. Wherein the play could easily take place in a mess of well-propped and realism-based settings, Distracted has been relegated to a very modern, hard-wood look, wherein a few boxes and some snazzy matching chairs are re-arranged to create every scene. When minimalism and Brechtian acting are combined, it is a style of theatre that, while not new, is certainly underutilized and appreciated. I have a particular penchant for the metatheatrical and Distracted serves it up raw. Lighting work was exactly as it should have been-within the concept of focus and without diversion or flourish (despite an audience member who seemed to be wearing a glitter-bedazzled circus tent that caught the light annoyingly in every shift).
It pains me not to be able to write in detail about the structure of the play -- in fact, most of my grandest and sharpest observations have to do with the writing and the establishing of conflict in the text. One must trust my word, however, that the inspirational design of Lisa Loomer's play, while definite in its message much like her previous work on Girl, Interrupted, provides such an insight on a social and theatrical level that to even point out a facet of it might give away a truly poignant ending; that, in pulling at one strand of the show, I might unweave the entire tapestry -- and I couldn't forgive myself for depriving you of the pleasure. Allow me to do the thing that no proper critic should do and, instead of explaining myself, implore you to take my word at face value. It must be said that credit for everything above and more must go to Hillary Sea Bard, the show's director, whose vision encapsulated so many of the starring moments that pointing them out singly would be tedious. Do yourself a favor, gentle reader, and take the entire organism in its beauty, rather than listening to my inept dissection.