REVIEW: Distracted (American Theatre Company)

‘Distracted’ isn’t worth your attention

 Fulks, Wilder - H II

American Theatre Company presents:

Distracted

by Lisa Loomer
directed by PJ Paparellil
through February 28th (more info)

review by Keith Ecker 

I’ve been told by medical professionals that I have both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) and general anxiety disorder (GAD), which is the exact same dual diagnosis given to the little boy in the play Distracted.

Fulks - V III So you’d think that because I could identify with one of the play’s central figures, I’d probably be able to sympathize with its characters; maybe I’d be moved to think about the consequences of medicating children. Well, I can’t sympathize, and the only thing I was moved to do was leave the theater once the lights came up.

There’s a lot to be said about this American Theatre Company production. So much in fact that it’s hard to focus. But as my therapist reminds me, it’s best to break things down into smaller tasks.

Let’s start with something simple, like the space. It’s huge with an exposed concrete floor big enough to stage Xanadu. Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a large space. It just requires a lot of energy to fill it. Unfortunately, there’s little energy in this play. The mother (Donna Jay Fulks), who tries to “fix” her son’s AD/HD, has the emotional depth of a woman in an Activia commercial. When she should be banging her head against the steel beam that was obstructing my view of stage left, she instead grits her teeth, rolls her eyes and half-asses a mantra to calm herself down.

On a positive note, the use of 16 flat-screen televisions was a novel effect. Not only do the screens serve as figurative distractions—representing cell phones, cable news and instant messaging—they also create digital scenery. A doctor’s office, for example, comes to life when the screens flicker with images of impressionist paintings and a fish tank.

Next, the acting. I’ll start with the positive on this one. The supporting cast, many of whom play multiple roles, steals the show. As the protagonist boringly drifts from one professional to another, teetering on helplessness and frustrated but never quite getting there, the supporting cast infuses real emotion and vibrancy into the piece. Audrey Morgan, who plays the teacher, a doctor and a nurse, and Dina Facklis, who plays the obsessive-compulsive neighbor Vera, have impeccable commitment and comedic chops. When they speak, the play comes to life.

Facklis, Fulks - V Unfortunately, most of the time the acting is dead on arrival. The mother and father (Kevin Rich) are an incredibly unconvincing couple, playing out the tension in the relationship with all the reality of a “very special episode” of a primetime sitcom. True, Fulks had a challenging part. The mother is the sun that the world of the play revolves around. But damn it, feel something! Maybe this is emblematic of Distracted’s suburbia setting, where people harbor a sort of overly reserved kind of existential anger at society that must be suppressed for fear of what the neighbors might think. But hey, we’re all human. And even a soccer mom is going to have a mental breakdown at some point. I’ve seen it happen, and it isn’t pretty. The best we get is a shoe-shopping spree and a small outburst where she confesses to the audience that she feels like her son is ruining her life.

The direction. PJ Paparelli, who is also the artistic director of ATC, makes Distracted move fast. A bedroom morphs into an office which morphs into a classroom. A teacher becomes a nurse, a doctor breaks out of character and everyone stops action to speak to the audience. The smash-cut scene changes work thanks to the coasters on all the set pieces. However, the character switches do not. Paparelli moves so fast that half the time the actors seem confused as to whom they are supposed to be, occasionally stumbling over their lines in an effort to catch up.

Finally, the writing. I’m amazed this play was first produced in 2007 because it feels like it was from the early 90s. I’m 28 years old. Childhood Ritalin prescriptions were commonplace, albeit controversial, when I was 8. This play treats the subject matter as untouched territory while failing to contribute anything to the decades-old dialogue. Worse still, the whole piece feels like a big lecture, a sort of morality play where the audience is talked down to the entire time. And because there aren’t really characters in this piece, just physical embodiments of different points of view, we never have the opportunity to care about anyone.

One last note: If you do find anything redeeming about this play, it will all be dashed by the miserable ending. Distracted just kind of peters out on an anticlimactic note, that note being a song by Eminem, a rapper no tweenage boy has listened to for nearly a decade. I don’t know if the use of Eminem was in the script or if it was a directorial move, but it reminded me of watching my mom try to prove how cool she still is by doing tequila shots.

A good supporting cast and some interesting stage elements can’t save this production. Sadly, the only thing you’ll be paying attention to while watching Distracted is your watch.

 

Rating: ★½

 

Rich, Fulks - H all photos by Christopher Plevin

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Think Fast: Cheyenne Jackson, Red Orchid Theatre, Barbara Gaines, and Superior Donuts

logo Good news for Old Town’s A Red Orchid Theatre: tickets for their current production Mistakes Were Made (our review here), by Craig Wright, have been selling like hot cakes – so much so that they’ve added an extra Wednesday night performance for all of October.  Be sure to check it out before it closes on October 31st.  Mistakes Were Made stars Michael Shannon, and is directed by Dexter Bullard.   (h/t Chris Jones)


shakespeare

 

Check out the interview with Chicago Shakes artistic director (and founder) Barbara Gaines regarding her direction of the company’s current production, Richard III. Well worth the read.

 


superiordonuts The Daily Beast has posted a rave review of Tracy Letts’ Superior Donuts, which played last year to positive reviews at Steppenwolf. An excerpt:

Letts and his cast can breathe deeply today. While a far less ambitious play than August, with its three-story set and sprawling cast, Superior Donuts is no less successful for what it aims to be: a tender, funny, and often tragic valentine to Letts’ Chicago in a time of intense cultural change. Fans of August won’t find that play’s heavy, gut-wrenching revelations here, but Donuts was always intended to be a smaller, lighter effort, as delightful and sweet as a doughnut itself. The play, which Letts began writing even before August, earned positive reviews when it first opened in Chicago with the same cast in July 2008, and after a year of Letts’ tweaks and rewrites, it may be even better….

Read the entire review here.


Per Perez Hilton:

cheyenn Tina Fey’s brilliant comedy, 30 Rock, may be getting the one thing it’s severely lacking – a hot piece of eye candy!

Rumors are circulating that Broadway hottie, openly gay and successful actor Cheyenne Jackson, will allegedly be joining the cast in a semi or possibly a completely permanent capacity.

For those of you who don’t live and die by the goings on of the Great White Way, Cheyenne has been in productions like Xanadu and All Shook Up!

More here.

Last Week to see "XANADU"

 

LAST CHANCE TO SEE XANADU

Show closes next Sunday!!!


$44 TICKETS
for Sunday – Friday performances
Click
here and use code “HAPPY” when ordering

Xanadu_closing_next_Sunday

FINAL WEEK!
Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place
175 E. Chestnut, Chicago

Call (312) 902-1400
Tickets also available at the Drury Lane box office or
any Broadway In Chicago box office.
Groups (10+) 312-977-1710

Chicago Theater: "Xanadu" Reviews

shows_xanaduxanadu2 

The hit Broadway-musical Xanadu joyously roller-skated its way onto Michigan Avenue last night at Drury Lane Water Tower

Here’s a collection of Xanadu theater reviews:

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* UPDATED * UPDATED * UPDATED * UPDATED * UPDATED * UPDATED * UPDATED *

 

Christopher Piatt  (TimeOut Chicago)

You don’t have to be gay to dig Xanadu; you need to be gay enough.  …(Book writer Douglas Carter) Beane‘s challenge was to stitch the virile, throbbing unapologetically awesome space-pop of Electric Light Orchestra into a credible evening.  The resulting airheaded, upbeat rock follies…has a deliriously screwball quality that channels the lush, berserk American entertainment of the 1930s.

Of the cast, haunted slumlord Larry Marshall adds an appealing noir quality.  Meanwhile, Elizabeth Stanley, the pop-princess chorine who skates and tells jokes, is the star of the goddamn universe. (Entire review here)

Rating: ««««« out of 6

 

Chris Jones (Tribune)

…A shrewdly good time, if you have a few pre-show drinks…

Yes, “Xanadu” knows it’s based on one of the worst movies ever made. It makes fun of jukebox musicals even as it takes its place among them. And with a comparable chutzpah to that which once catapulted Olivia Newton-John to incomprehensible global stardom, “Xanadu” manages to poke fun at the creative bankruptcy of the endless recycling of movies and nostalgia while doing precisely that itself. No armor is more protective than self-awareness.

Rating: ★★★                                                            Read entire review.

Hedy Weiss (Sun-Times)

Talent and fluff clash, but goofy grins prevail.

Let it never be said that playwright Douglas Carter Beane doesn’t possess a gleefully self-mocking sense of his own work. During the course of “Xanadu,” which received its high-energy, high-volume, post-Broadway debut here Wednesday at the winningly intimate Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place, he offers a fine assessment of the show. As one character exclaims: “This is like children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people.”    

Rating: Somewhat Recommended                         Read entire review.

Tom Williams (ChicagoCritic.com)

Let me start my stating that I hate disco music from the 1980’s and I think the Xanadu film may be the worst film of all-time or high on that list. Those biases have colored my take on Xanadu, the musical now at Drury Lane Water Tower Place produced by Broadway in Chicago. To me, there was nothing very cute or funny in this show. It tries too hard to be campy and satirical with dated 80’s referenced jokes. Filled with ELO tunes, leg warmers, roller skating, and a fake Australian accent, Xanadu came off as crass exploitive fluff that I found derivative.

As a consumer advocate, however, let me state that the audience at the opening night performance found the show to be a hilarious romp filed with bouncy, had-clapping songs filled with 80’s nostalgia. It is a feel-good show long on escapist entertainment and short on plot.

Rating: Somewhat Recommended                         Read entire review.

Fabrizio Almeida (NewCity)

I don’t know that the stage show offers any experience, let alone anything that might even qualify this as a fun and fabulous guilty pleasure. Clearly, the biggest problem is with Christopher Ashley’s direction. You can’t force camp, and yet every half-assed joke and lame visual pun has been overly telegraphed and repeated to the point of ineffectiveness. I did laugh a few times: Elizabeth Stanley’s breathy delivery of some stupid lines; the thick Australian accent. But overall I found the ninety-minute intermission-less stage experience tedious, dull and uninspired…………

…….clearly, this is a big misstep for Broadway in Chicago, and I don’t see ”Xanadu” running long or appealing to many theatergoers. Because if this camp-loving, ELO-listening, gay roller-skating lover of “Starlight Express” thought it was crap, what hope is there for you to like it?

Rating: Not Recommended                                        Read entire review.

Xanadu is fun for 5-year kids to 95-year old disco queens!

This week’s Chicago theater openings:

BEERThe Neo-Futurists

CARDIFF (BOUND EAST FOR CARDIFF)Goodman Theatre

DESIGN FOR LIVINGFirst Folio Theatre

FIRES IN THE MIRROR16th Street Theater

I GOTCHABlack Ensemble Theatre

LIVING GREEN Victory Gardens Theater

MISAMERICARaven Theatre

THE SINS OF SOR JUANA Northwestern University Theatre

SLAPHAPPY Beat the Jester Productions

XANADUDrury Lane Theatre Watertower Place

Broadway In Chicago: Skate to "Xanadu"

On Friday, October 24th, be one of the first 20 people to skate to the Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place box office (175 E. Chestnut, Chicago) and receive a pair of tickets to the first performance of “XANADU” on Friday, January 16, PLUS a copy of the original Broadway cast recording!

"Xanadu" is making its Chicago landing this winter - don't miss it! .

What is XANADU??? 

 

ANSWER: Put a bunch of smash pop songs, the Tony® Award nominee Douglas Carter Beane and the cutest couple in town into a Broadway blender, and what do you get? A roller-skating, disco-dancing, glow-stick-waving smash-hit musical! Taking audiences back to 1980 California, this hilarious new musical follows the beautiful Kira, who travels to earth to inspire a struggling young artist named Sonny. A vision in leg warmers and wind-swept hair, she helps this hunky painter find his voice, discover true love and build the world’s first roller disco (not necessarily in that order).