Volume 78 - Number 41 / March 18 -24, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Cynthia Nixon stars in Distracted
Written by Lisa Loomer
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Laura Pels Theatre
111 West 46th Street
Cynthia Nixon brings focus to Distracted
Actress recalls early career, weighs in on Ritalin
By JERRY TALLMER
A tall and venerated personage named Fritz Weaver was, with his wife Rochelle Oliver, on his way out of the Viand, an Upper West Side coffee shop, when he stopped to have a word with a good-looking blonde in a booth near the door.
Hello, Weaver said. I gave you your Theatre World Award when you were 14 years old. Now how did I know to do that?
Because youre an actor! You know your lines! said the good-looking blonde who is quite something of an actress herself.
Her name is Cynthia Nixon, and she did indeed win a Theatre World Award for her performance as bratty Dinah Lord in Philip Barrys The Philadelphia Story at Lincoln Center when she was 14. She has since won a bundle of other awards, including a Best Actress Tony for her portrayal of the grieving young mother in David Lindsay Adaires 2006 Pulitzer Prize Rabbit Hole. She is also fairly famous for playing lawyer Miranda Hobbes during the six-year run of televisions Sex and the City.
At the moment, shes back on stage playing another grievously afflicted mother one, however, whose child, 9-year-old Jesse, is only too much alive. Indeed, he has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and that is his mothers problem and ongoing headache as she bounces from one doctor or shrink or form of treatment to another, much to the scorn of the kids average-good-guy father.
The play, at the Roundabout Companys Laura Pels Theatre, is Lisa Loomers Distracted, directed by Mark Brokaw. Nixon gives dimension and believability (as always) to a character merely called Mama or Mrs. Cara no first name. The actress shrugs off that blank. I guess I just accepted it.
She was born April 9, 1966, here in Manhattan, the daughter of Texas-bred journalist (the late) Walter E. Nixon and Chicago-bred writer (for TVs To Tell the Truth among other outlets) Anne Nixon.
I actually got into acting first through films. My mother had been an actress when young and knew people in the business. One was a director named Ed Levy whod been at Yale Drama School. When I was 11, we ran into him. He was trying to finance a film he was making called Mom, the Wolfman and Me.
By the time he made it, I was too old, but then I got into what were called After-School Specials. I did one with Butterfly McQueen, another with Theresa Wright. Then along came Little Darlings , in which I played a little hippie girl in summer camp.
Two years later I auditioned for, and got, The Philadelphia Story.
She was 17 turning 18, a freshman at Barnard, when Mike Nichols employed her simultaneously in Tom Stoppards The Real Thing and Sam Shepards Hurlyburly. The shows The Real Thing at the Plymouth, Hurlyburly at the Barrymore were only two blocks apart, and she had no problem chasing from one to the other and still hitting all her cues.
She was also terrific in both of them, as in all else shes ever done. It so happens that Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were seated directly behind this theatergoer at Distracted last week. Just before the play began, Stiller leaned forward and murmured to me: She saved my life at Hurlyburly.
What he meant, he further murmured, was that hed so hated the character he had to play a loud, crass Hollywood agent who drags a bedraggled teenage runaway in as a sexual present for two smoother if no less rotten Hollywood types that he blocked on learning his lines.
I thought Nichols was going to fire me. But then, as we were about to go on, Cynthia [the bedraggled runaway] whispered to me: Its all right, Jerry, its all right. this 17-year-old kid bucking me up and everything instantly straightened out.
The big crisis in Distracted is whether or not to medicate 9-year-old Jesse (Matthew Gumley) with the pacifying Ritalin that his Dad (Josh Stamberg) so vehemently opposes.
I have not been through any of that, says the real-life mother of Samantha and Charlie. I think as a society we do overmedicate. But if I had a child with ADD, I dont know what Id do. If Ritalin would work for her or him, Id certainly do it.
There is a funny shock-effect moment in Distracted when a Dr. Jinks suddenly jumps up, breaks character becomes an actor playing Dr. Jinks and exclaims: I got to stop. I got to stop. You think I would even remember my fucking lines if it werent for Ritalin? No less be able to memorize four different parts? [because the real. actual actor Peter Benson and the make-believe actor do indeed carry four parts].
Dr. Jinks doesnt really need Ritalin. All he needs is a 17-year-old Cynthia Nixon whispering in his ear: Itll be all right, Doc, itll be all right.
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