Saying you feel like you have attention deficit disorder has become one of those clichés of modern life. Sure, we all feel pushed, pulled and distracted by the demands of jobs, families and life in general - but what if you really are an adult coping with attention deficit disorder?
Playwright and director Heather Renken's new show at Broom Street Theater, Shiny Things, looks at life from the perspective of Eliza, a young woman whose ADD has complicated her life since childhood. She's a sculptor who rarely completes a project, can't hold down an office job and fears her scattered attention will embarrass her husband and hurt his career.
Perhaps the show's most clever conceit is the character of Kirit (Tyler Schott), a silent, Chaplinesque presence who follows Eliza everywhere she goes. While other characters don't notice him, he's the living embodiment of Eliza's ADD-affected thinking.
In fact, after the first few minutes of watching him onstage, I thought, Wow, that's distracting! But, of course, that's precisely the point. For Eliza, paying attention to anything means trying to process competing tracks of information in her head. As the play notes, some consider ADD to be not a lack of attention, but in fact hyper-focused attention on too much incoming information. Schott does an excellent job in a role with no spoken lines.
As Eliza, Jenny Russ strikes the right note; she's believable and natural, not overtly dramatic. The more her ADD complicates not only her own life, but also her husband's (Odari McWhorter), she decides to seek treatment, but medicating her symptoms brings a fresh set of problems. If she's going to start popping Addlin (a fictitious drug one imagines is a mix of Adderall and Ritalin), is she putting herself at risk of dangerous side effects or ruining some essential aspect of her personality?
Renken, a BST regular who has worked on dozens of shows both onstage and behind the scenes, mixes these more serious questions with vaudeville-esque interludes that seem partly a personal fascination and partly a reflection of Eliza's inner life. Unfortunately, some of the knowingly cornball humor really is too corny for its own good.
A more successful attempt at merging the realistic and the fanciful happens in a strong scene between Eliza and the personification of Addlin (Jesse Andrew Fey), dressed in prescription-bottle orange and white. If ADD appears to Eliza as a sweet vaudevillian sprite, Addlin is a slick huckster: think used-car salesman meets street pusher. While the contrast between the two is perhaps a bit too black and white, the play ultimately embraces ambiguity, to its credit.