'DISTRACTED'

Where: Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday; through April 29

Tickets: $42 to $55

Information: (213) 628-2772

RITA WILSON'S character in the new play "Distracted" at the Mark Taper Forum does not have a name. She's just Mama, the mother to 9-year-old son Jesse, whose diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder drives Lisa Loomer's play.

That's fine with Wilson, herself a mother of two sons with actor/husband Tom Hanks.

"I think the playwright felt this was a kind of every woman, not one specific person," Wilson says. "She could be anybody."

"I don't give the father a name either," Loomer adds. "I think when you have a child with issues or problems, it tends to override other aspects of your life. At this point in time, (the characters) were Mama and Dad."

Mama spends the bulk of the play trying to find a diagnosis, a school, and a universal comfort zone both for her son and - by extension - for her family. Some of the people she encounters insist the kid is just volatile, a "typical boy." Others say Ritalin is the only possible thing to successfully de-energize her sson.

It makes for a tricky dramatic quest and debate, especially given that Mama, her husband (played by Ray Porter) and practically everyone surrounding them tend to be a bit, well, "distracted" themselves.

"I have friends who have children with Attention Deficit Disorder, so I know a little bit about the journey they have experienced," says Wilson, 50. "Good parents are trying to do what they believe is right. Sometimes you don't have all the answers."

"Distracted" is Wilson's first time back on stage since doing a stint as Roxie Hart in Broadway's "Chicago" last summer.

The character of Mama - who never leaves the stage - is described as "smart, warm, dedicated but distractible."

Wilson more than fit the bill, according to the playwright.

"She came in and she nailed it," Loomer says. "She had the intelligence that we were looking for, and she had the warmth and a certain quirkiness. I totally believed her as a mother who was on a relentless quest to help her child."

Loomer, whose previous plays staged at the Taper have examined infertility ("Expecting Isabel"), women's body image ("The Waiting Room") and nannies ("Living Out"), found herself reading about ADD and ADHD in the news practically on a daily basis. The pro-and-con debate over whether to medicate a child particularly caught her attention.

"I wondered why societal pressures compel people to help their children 'achieve' in an increasingly competitive society, where I think we have a great fear as a society of falling behind," Loomer says. "Our position as No. 1 is being threatened on many levels, and I do feel that the children are getting the brunt of this.

"I wanted to know what ADD was in an ADD world."