It’s All About the Family—”Independence” at Citadel

A mother and three daughters face broken family bonds, first gingerly and then fiercely in “Independence,” a domestic drama by Lee Blessing at Lake Forest’s Citadel Theatre Company.

Strong performances make this witches’ brew of a dysfunctional family a memorable evening in an intimate theatre setting.

Set in the spring of 1983 and Evelyn Briggs, 53, is living in her family home in the small town of Independence, Iowa, with her mousey daughter Jo, 25, who is about two months pregnant by the town stud.

Jo sends for her older sister Kess, 33, a college professor who lives with her lesbian partner in Minnesota and hasn’t been home since temporarily committing their mother to the municipal mental hospital four years ago.

Still at home, but itching to be free is their trashy sister Sherry, 19, who calls herself “the queen of meaningless sex.”

Directed by Citadel’s founder and artistic director Scott Phelps, the show could be a little tighter, but the characters come vividly to life in the hands of four fine actors.

Catherine Marcroft plays Evelyn and manages to convey the matriarch’s volatility and vulnerability at the same time. At first Evelyn seems perfectly normal, but soon she begins to display the self-destructive behavior that drove her daughter Kess to have her committed.

Holly Robison plays Jo, who desperately wants to believe that the father of her unborn child did love her, at least for a while. She is the most conflicted of the daughters, needing a life of her own but bent under the obligation of caring for her mercurial mother. Robison navigates the characters meekness and strength with finesse and touching sincerity.

The oldest sister Kess, the most together of the three, is played by Laura Rauh, who beautifully crafts her character’s thoughtful response to the tangled nature of the situation.

Amber Page portrays the rebellious Sherry and she is every bit the restless teen. Sarcastic, confrontational and just plain angry, Page’s Sherry fancies herself an artist, all the while looking for love in all the wrong places.

Blessing has created four women you won’t soon forget. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 16. Tickets are $25, $22 for students and seniors. Drive to Lake Forest and see how strong actors with a good script can flourish despite a tiny space. For tickets, visit or call (847) 735-8554.

“Independence” is the final production of Citadel’s seventh season. In September the theater will present a one-act play festival at Gorton. Following that, the company will move into a new 150-seat space at the West Campus of Lake Forest High School on Waukegan Road.

The 2010-11 season features “The Boarding House” by Ann Noble in November, “Jake’s Women” by Neil Simon in February and the murder mystery musical spoof of detective stories “Something’s Afoot” by James McDonald, David Vos and Robert Gerlach, with additional music by Ed Linderman in April and May.

Photo credit: Daniel Kullman, Bitter Jester Creative