On stage, Nixon brings a light touch to a heavy subject

By Colleen Long
Associated Press / March 6, 2009
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NEW YORK - In "Distracted," Cynthia Nixon plays a mom trying to figure out if her son has attention deficit disorder and should be medicated.

It's heavy stuff, but the Roundabout Theatre Company production is surprisingly light and funny thanks to Nixon's character, a witty chatterbox who chews on the matter with her shrink, her husband, her kid's teacher, and even the audience.

"So many families are dealing with this," Nixon says between a recent rehearsal and performance at off-Broadway's Laura Pels Theatre. "But also, in a way, as a parent, you're always dealing with this. Even if your kid doesn't quote unquote have these issues. You think, 'Does my kid have a problem? Am I paying enough attention to them? Should I be taking them to a therapist? Should I be trying homeopathy?' "

There's such a long list of ways you can make yourself crazy as a parent, says Nixon, a mother of two children, ages 12 and 6. The play, written by Lisa Loomer, centers on Mama (Nixon) as she tries to cope with son Jesse's erratic and sometimes violent behavior. The caveat of course is that Mama and Dad as well as other characters in the play are themselves a bit scattered and distracted.

The son, we're told by Mama within the first seconds of the play, will remain off stage, because who wants to see a kid on stage? But his voice is heard in nearly every scene.

The play has a lightning-quick pace and a bright, busy set that reflects today's over-stimulated world: News headlines scroll across a screen; characters talk into video cameras broadcast elsewhere on stage; and everyone is attached to a cellphone. It is, in a sense, a play with ADD, says Loomer.

There was no better choice for the role than Nixon, the playwright says.

"I think she has a great deal in common with the character. She's super bright, she's very emotionally accessible, she has a really mercurial mind, she wonders about things the same way the character does," Loomer says. "She's funny. She knows what it means to be fiercely dedicated to something; she has that in her that kind of strength, relentlessness."

Nixon, of course, is no stranger to theater.

While in college at Barnard, she appeared simultaneously in two Broadway productions: "Hurlyburly" and "The Real Thing." She won a Tony Award in 2006 for her performance in "Rabbit Hole."

But she's best known as Miranda Hobbs, the sarcastic realist on the HBO phenomenon "Sex and the City," for which she was nominated four times for Emmys. The movie version grossed more than $150 million; Nixon says they'll begin shooting the sequel later this year.

Nixon says her years of playing Miranda have typecast her a bit, but it's all OK.

"While I feel like there are roles that I have missed out on because they can't see me as anything else than Miranda," she says, "if I was going to have a job that did that to me, I would take it in a minute because it's such a great job."

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