Jim Patrick: Going For His Second Directorial Success With “Distracted”

Jim Patrick’s first stint as a director was a big hit. Now he’s going for his second directorial success with what may be considered a risky and, at the very least, unusual play. It is Lisa Loomer’s play, “Distracted,” which is about a child with Attention Deficit Disorder — or, more to the point, about the child’s mother’s search for a doctor who can understand what is going on with her son.

It is not subject matter that’s likely to make people leave the comfort of home for an evening’s entertainment, but Patrick has wanted to do it for years, and he hopes to get the word out that this is a play worth seeing.

Patrick always wanted to be an actor, but did not give it a shot until late in life. Ten years ago he took an introduction to acting class at South Puget Sound Community College. The class was taught by Jeff Kingsbury. On the first night of class Kingsbury announced that Olympia Little Theatre was holding auditions for “Divorce Southern Style,” and Patrick decided to audition even though he had never acted before. He got a part, and he was hooked.

After that he did two or three plays directed by Pug Bujeaud and took acting lessons from Kathryn Billings who told him he should really be a director rather than an actor — advice he would eventually heed, although there’s no indication he intends to give up acting.

“Chris Cantrell conned me into auditioning for ‘1776’ (the musical at Tacoma Little Theatre),” Patrick said, “And I got a role.” After that he had a hard time getting cast in anything until he finally got a role in “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears” at Book-It Repertory Theatre in Seattle, which he said was one of the best experiences ever working in theater. “I started working in Seattle a lot,” he said.

Back home in Olympia he was recruited as a last-minute replacement director for “A Few Good Men” at Olympia Little Theatre last April. He took over a mess. The lead actors didn’t know their lines and he had to fire one of the leads, but he pulled it off to the extent that the play was a popular and critical success. Patrick not only directed the play, the performed in the role of Lt. Col. Markinson.

The success of “A Few Good Men” lead to Patrick proposing “Distracted” to the theater, and he said Artistic Manager Kathryn Beall loved it. He was first introduced to Loomer’s play in 2007 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He wanted to get tickets for himself and his wife, but there was only one ticket left and he let her have it. She saw the play and told him that as an actor he had to read it, so he bought a copy of the play and has wanted to do it since. “It’s the best new script I’ve read in 10years, and I read a lot,” Patrick said.

The play is about parents who are trying to find out how to best treat their son’s ADD. “I have ADD myself, but I didn’t know it until I was 65,” Patrick said.

Huffington Post called the play “a stinging indictment of our pill-for-every-ill culture.” In the play the boy’s father says, “I have a little problem with the idea of somebody giving my son drugs to keep him nice and quiet. Maybe I don’t think nice and quiet is such a good thing.” But it is the mother who carries most of the weight in searching for the right doctor.

Perusing reviews from various productions of “Distracted” I see that a number of theaters have treated it as a comedy. Here’s what Patrick had to say about that: “It’s life.  It’s a serious subject and there are some hilarious moments in it. I have read several reviews where the director had his cast play it as a comedy and they all fell flat on their faces. Everyone is passionate in their beliefs. Comedy is really a very misleading categorization.”

It is also about the constant media distraction in modern society. The set at Olympia Little Theatre has two large television monitors, and the play opens with them on and constantly switching back and forth between news and sports. “All of us are caught up in media distraction, the key (in staging the play) is not to be too distracting,” Patrick said.

Patrick’s wife consulted with technicians at Apple to work out the media presentation, which the director says is “more of a background than anything else.”

Originally the play was conceived for one man and one woman playing four roles each, but the OLT production has 10 actors, many of whom are new to the stage. The main characters are Mama, played by Elizabeth Shé; Dad, played by Steven Vocke, who has never before played a main role; and 10-year old Quinn Hargrove.

The play runs April 12-29 at Olympia Little Theatre.

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