“You can’t choose the events that make you,” says Frank South at the beginning of his one-man show, Pay Attention, based on events surrounding, and caused by, South’s condition, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). During the nearly two-hour show, South takes the audience on a journey through a life tossed and turned by this disorder.To be sure, there were some amazing events during the years that South struggled with ADHD without knowing the name of his condition (he was diagnosed at age 49). From an early age he had a tendency to forget names, space out during lessons, forget or overlook assignments and important tasks while thinking about trivia. He was abused in school and called a “weird spaz retard.” He lived through alternative service as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, waited on tables while writing plays, broke through to become a playwright and TV writer/producer of shows like Melrose Place, all the time using alcohol and denial to mask his condition. With no scenery except for Kathi O’Donahue’s clever lighting, South uses a corner of the stage to represent the “shed” where he “hid” his problem. In a conversation following the play, South told the Mirror that his wife had once told him “You never were a TV producer. You just played one.” In Pay Attention, South recreates pitch meetings, a lawsuit court trial, wrap parties, power lunches, the typical movie/TV industry world that depends so much on regularity and conformity that one can appreciate what a tightrope South must have had to walk every day while struggling with his still-undiagnosed problem.An eventual breakdown-fueled partly by the difficulty of raising two sons already diagnosed with ADHD-led to South’s diagnosis. He maintains himself now with medication, therapy, and the help of his wife Margaret. “I don’t know what my life would have been like without her.”An experienced performance artist, South handles the portrayal of his life story with gusto and humor, aided by Mark Travis’ brisk and sympathetic direction. He conveys the quick changes of ADHD with changes of persona that sometimes go by almost too quickly, going from meek high school “spaz” to bearing a demonic grin as he portrays his secret ADHD self, to being the hopeful TV writer who wishes he could win an Emmy. Warning to audience: don’t confuse the changes within South’s own character with the other characters he plays, including his wife, sons, a Vietnamese hairdresser, Aaron Spelling (pretty funny), and Robert Altman.Despite the humor, and possibly because of the honesty in the telling of his story, South’s journey to recovery may trouble some people. It’s hard not to recognize some symptoms of attention deficit in all of our own lives, what with the crazy world that exists today. If Pay Attention occasionally induces feelings of pain, that may be one of its virtues.Pay Attention plays at The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse , 1211 4th Street, 310. 960.7738 through June 7,
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