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Real teens the heart and soul of ‘Tusk Tusk’ at PivenTheatre Workshop

Big sister Maggie (OliviCygan) comforts little brother Finn (Gabriel Stern) 'Tusk Tusk' about siblings living alone after their mentally ill

Big sister Maggie (Olivia Cygan) comforts little brother Finn (Gabriel Stern) in "Tusk Tusk," about siblings living alone after their mentally ill mother vanishes.

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♦ Sept. 14-Oct. 7

♦ Piven Theatre Workshop, 927 Noyes St., Evanston

♦ Tickets, $15-$25

♦ (847) 866-8049;

Updated: September 12, 2012 5:51PM

Three siblings are on their own in a London apartment because their mentally ill mother has vanished.

That’s the premise in Piven Theatre Workshop’s American premiere of “Tusk Tusk” by Polly Stenham.

Director Jennifer Green has cast three impressive young actors who capture the spirit of each of the kids and skillfully handle British accents. Green said she enjoys directing young people because of the energy they bring to their roles. This show is a perfect vehicle for that energy.

Chicagoan Bryce Lunsky, 15, a student at Chicago Academy for the Arts, plays 15-year-old Eliot.

“Eliot is a complex character,” Lunsky said. “In some ways, he’s very mature. In some ways, he’s very immature. He’s not ready for a certain independence, yet he feels obligated to rush into this independence in the absence of a mother. He’s not really competent enough or prepared enough to take care of a family, but yet he feels it’s his job to do it. Emotionally he is not on par with himself intellectually, so he’s a torn character.”

Olivia Cygan, 18, of Evanston, who will be a freshman in Northwestern University’s Theatre Department this fall, plays Maggie, 14. “Maggie, in her mother’s absence, kind of becomes the matriarch of the family,” Cygan said. “She’s very funny, she’s very witty, she’s very smart. I think that as young as she is, she’s kind of an old soul. She’s had to deal with a lot. Her mother has been unstable and unreliable pretty much all of their lives.”

Cygan, who appeared in Green’s staging of “Great Expectations” at Piven when she was 10, performed in many plays at Evanston Township High School and elsewhere.

The youngest sibling, 7-year-old Finn, is played by high-energy, angelic-looking, Gabriel Stern, 9, of Evanston.

“Finn is a very loving character, yet he has a side where he can be very obnoxious and mean,” Stern said. “And sometimes he gets hurt through that other side. He usually likes to hide in a fort that he made when he gets in trouble.”

Stern has performed in productions at Lyric Opera, BoHo Theatre Ensemble and the Music Theatre Company.

Cast as Eliot’s girlfriend Cassie is Austin Moore, 17, a Timothy Christian senior from Elmhurst. “Cassie is from the wrong side of the tracks, but she’s trying to better herself,” Moore said. “She is kind of the voice of reason throughout this whole situation that the family is going through.”

She has done a number of area shows, including some with CYT DuPage, American Girl Theater, Porchlight Music Theatre and Victory Gardens Theater.

Green said she was attracted to this script because, “It is incredibly well-written. It’s a beautiful story. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking and it felt like a really great fit for us.”

The show is most appropriate for teenagers and adults. Green said that’s because the children portrayed “aren’t fictionalized kids. They’re kids who are dealing with big, deeper issues. And there’s no adults around them. They’re not watching their language. They’re experimenting with drinking. They’re experimenting with their identities.”

Myrna Petlicki is a local free-lance writer.

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