Pay Attention To ‘Distracted’

The Unicorn Theatre has done it again.

Now in its 37th season of bringing Kansas City some of the most entertaining and thought-provoking plays in existence, the Unicorn has a smash hit on its hands with Lisa Loomer’s, “Distracted.”

Throughout the years, the Unicorn Theatre has catapulted “local theater” beyond its grassroots stereotypes and into a universe so intriguing that bohemians and bourgeois alike just can’t get enough.

Partnering with UMKC Theatre to produce “Distracted,” the chemistry of professional and budding actors and actresses was utter bliss for the audience, who was often roaring with laughter or silenced with piqued anticipation.

“Distracted” is the epitome of American life – cable television, streaming newscasts, reality shows, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, GPS, video games, e-books, touch screen technology.

The stage is set with an enormous television in the middle of the living room, surrounded by half a dozen other television and computer screens.

It’s a truth most Americans know all too well. The TV has become the epicenter of the home.

Daily life is bombarded by technology and the overall feeling is that most of us just can’t keep up with the constant upgrades, the endless evolution of the latest gadget.

But what about parenting in this day and age?

Has childhood taken a backseat to virtual reality?

This play’s entire premise surrounds Mama (Katie Gilchrist) and Dad (Rusty Sneary) attempting to raise a child, Jesse (Zackary Hoar), in the midst of self-imposed chaos.

During a parent-teacher conference, it is revealed to Jesse’s parents that he is unable to sit still in class, finish his homework or socialize “normally,” and his teacher suggests having him tested for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Jesse’s parents are adamant that, while he is a somewhat defiant child, his individuality should be respected.

However, in the effort to help their son lead a successful life, Mama begins to research ADHD and believes that Jesse may truly have the disorder.

Adamant about keeping their child off of prescription drugs, the young couple begins their trek through the jungle of alternative treatment options to help Jesse be a “normal kid.”

Much to the couple’s surprise, they find themselves isolated by their community for refusing prescriptions as the one and only cure-all.

They seek the advice of the school counselor (Dina Kirschenbaum), who suggests a smorgasbord of behavior-modification options and Ritalin.

They reach out to friends like Sherry (Rachel Hirshorn), whose young son was also suffering from similar symptoms before therapy and Ritalin and whose daughter (Molliann McCulley) has experienced “success” treating her bipolar disorder with a buffet of prescription drugs.

Neighbor Vera (Amy Urbina) swears upon the miracle of Xanax.

Emotions run high when “Distracted” dares to ask the question: “Can Ritalin be a better mother than me?”

Despite the familiar subject matter, this isn’t a show where provoking emotion from the audience was an easy task.

It would have been easy to shrug your shoulders and say, “Who cares? We all feel overwhelmed by the rat race. Why should children be any different?”

But then “Distracted” shoves a stick in the spokes and demands that you ask yourself, “Who do you blame?”

Who is at fault for the cranked-up American culture? Is it the pesticides in our food?

Do we blame the drug companies for swindling us into believing we have problems that don’t really exist?

When did authenticity of self become a negative attribute?

Do we blame the media for giving us self-esteem complexes and driving us to the fill our bodies full of diet pills and Botox?

When did the word average become synonymous with unimpressive?

Do we blame social media for disconnecting our interpersonal relationships and making us socially awkward? Do we blame the public school system for boring our children into a raging state of insubordination?

Or do we blame our spouses, our children, ourselves because we allowed this to happen to us without considering the consequences of constant onslaught?

The Unicorn’s production of “Distracted” is one of their best yet from the stimulating set design to the compelling subject matter.

Gilchrist and Sneary are paragons of lead roles.

Their stage presence commanded the congregation to dig deep within themselves to help these desperate parents find an answer, not only for this struggling child, but for every person who has felt alienated by the yearning to simplify their life without succumbing to the contemporary definitions of acceptable alternatives.

Hoar’s depiction of the modern day pre-teen was disturbingly accurate.

Irritable, vulgar, disrespectful, and unengaged – his portrayal of what the current generations of Americans are experiencing in their youth was enough of a catalyst to make a person go home and donate all of their electronic devices to Savers.

In true Unicorn Theatre style, less is more, and that was never truer than in the cases of Andi Meyer, Dina Kirschenbaum and Mark Thomas.

All of individually talented actors embraced multiple roles during “Distracted,” executing the characters with such quality that the show would have suffered without them.

The humor that Amy Urbina brought to the stage as the neurotic neighbor/friend/relative everyone has and loves, despite their quirks, reminded the audience that there is a little crazy in all of us.

Rachel Hirshorn and Molliann McCulley accomplished truth in character as a mother-daughter duo working within the system, but wrought with failure. Their reality is one that inconceivable amounts of parents and children in America face daily. If part of this storyline isn’t truth to them, it would be impossible to know, because while on the stage, they were living many families’ struggle.

This is the third season of partnership between the Unicorn and UMKC Theatre and there is no doubt that this dynamic duo will be the leading force in keeping the arts alive.

“Distracted” is playing at the Unicorn Theatre Nov. 27 – Dec. 12.

Check out for tickets and information on upcoming shows.

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