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ACT II: A second look at area stages — ‘Tusk Tusk’ highlights young talent

OliviCygan (left) Gabriel Stern play anxious siblings “Tusk Tusk” Piven Theatre.

Olivia Cygan (left) and Gabriel Stern play anxious siblings in “Tusk Tusk” at Piven Theatre.

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Updated: October 24, 2012 6:10AM



The best reason to catch British playwright Polly Stenham’s “Tusk Tusk,” now in its U.S. debut at the Piven Theatre, is to see the performances of three very young actors who shoulder very large roles.

Stenham herself was just 23 when she wrote what appears to be a semi-autobiographical riff about three siblings whose father is not on the scene, whose mother has gone off the deep end (not for the first time), and whose greatest terror is that they might be separated and put into foster care. They are holed up in the shabby house into which they recently moved, and their interaction suggests “Peter Pan” meets Harold Pinter, with a vague hint of “Lord of the Flies.” Think early Steppenwolf havoc, but with high school and grade school ages.

I don’t fully buy Stenham’s play, but under the wild and wonderful direction of Jessica Green, these young actors are terrific to watch, with Maggie played by Olivia Cygan (a petite, sophisticated beauty, just starting Northwestern University and already a big talent); Finn played by Gabriel Stern (a little blonde rock star all of 8 1/2), and Bryce Lunsky, a sophomore at the Chicago Academy of the Arts, as their angry older brother, Eliot.

“Tusk Tusk” runs through Oct. 7 at Piven Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston. Call (847) 866-8049 or visit www.piven theatre.org.

Two highly recommended shows you might consider:

† “Wrens” (through Oct. 13 at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge): Ann McGravie’s beautifully observed, quasi-autobiographical play is set in May 1944, just as World War II was about to end in Europe. It homes in on seven quite different women from England, Scotland and Wales who have spent the war serving in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, where they enjoyed harsh conditions but also a great deal of independence. Director Karen Kessler’s excellent all-female cast does a superb job. (Call 773-334-7728; www.rivendelltheatre.org)

† “Xanadu” (through Oct. 28 at Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, 100 Drury Ln., Oakbrook Terrace): Director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell has tapped the hidden braininess in this goofy, ELO-scored musical about the ancient Greek muses and the inspiration brought by one of them to a street artist in Venice Beach, Calif., whose big dream is to open an arty roller disco. Call (630-530-8300; www.drurylaneoak brook.com).



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