One of the true joys for theatre critics is being introduced to a work we’re not already familiar with. It Runs in the Family is a hysterical farce by British scribe Ray Cooney that premiered in Guildford, outside central London, in 1987. While some U.S. audiences may not be familiar with the delightful two-act comedy that ran in the West End for nine years, a new mounting at Lake Forest’s Citadel Theatre brings this U.K. laugh-fest to Chicago theatregoers, and you should not miss the chance to see it.
The show opens with a false sense of calm, as many farces do. The key to farce is that you first establish a baseline “normal” so that when all hell breaks loose, the absurdity of the situations that develop are over-the-top funny.
Dr. David Mortimore is a neurologist about to give what could be a career-defining lecture at an international conference being held at the London hospital where he works on staff. However, an old flame from his past shows up to let him know they had created a lovechild from their affair and that emotionally disturbed child is now 18 years old and on his way to the hospital to confront the father he never knew – which could not only disrupt Dr. Mortimore’s speech but also his marriage.
A comedy of lies, misunderstandings, and errors ensues as Dr. Mortimore spins story after story to throw suspicion off his trail – each one a bigger whopper than the one before. Soon Dr. Mortimore’s colleagues, and Nurse Tate who mothered the child, are wrapped up in trying to keep the tall tales believable despite all odds.
In the central role of Dr. Mortimore, Tim Walsh is excellent. He begins the play as a mature, respected medical steward. However, as the play unfolds, he gradually comes undone, moving from refined and collected into frantic and ridiculous. Walsh never loses his character even as the demeanor of that character changes as he responds to an ever-growing list of absurdities. It is a strong performance that audiences will enjoy.
As the heartlet from his past, Aimee Kleiman is delightful. She still has the beauty that stirred Dr. Mortimore 18 years ago, plus the character strength that comes from raising a child on your own your whole life. Kleiman’s somewhat questionable wails of anguish over bad news are a highlight of the play.
David Whitlock is also a blessing as Dr. Hubert Bonney, one of Dr. Mortimore’s colleagues at the hospital who gets wrapped up in the web of lies. Whitlock’s performance proves he would fit right in as a cast member on television’s Whose Line is it Anyway? There are elements of Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, and Wayne Brady to Whitlock’s madcap comedic talents.
Decan Poll has the daunting task of being the only young person in an otherwise all adult cast. It’s a situation I was very familiar with as a child actor, and it’s not always the easiest position to be in. Poll uses every emotional tool at his disposal to sell the disturbed man-child role and prove that he belongs on the stage with the other excellent actors in the cast.
Chris Bruzzini and Ed Kuffert play the heavies in the play. Bruzzini effectively plays the local police sergeant investigating alleged crimes committed by Dr. Mortimore’s illegitimate child on his way to find his father. Kuffert is Sir Willoughby Drake – a bombastic, narcissistic lush who presides over the hospital and grows ever more agitated with Dr. Mortimore as the story unfolds.
There are other standouts in the cast as well. Ray Andrecheck is strong as a somewhat confused patient whose name unsuspectingly draws him into the web of lies that Dr. Mortimore and his colleagues are spinning. Ellen Phelps, one of the founders of Citadel Theatre, offers a nice interpretation of Dr. Mortimore’s wife Rosemary.
Rounding out the cast are Philip J. Macaluso as Dr. Mike Connolly, Debra Rodkin as the ward’s matron, and Nancy Greco in the dual roles of a nun and Dr. Bonney’s mother.
There is not a bad performer in the cast. Everyone delivers their lines with excellence and just the right dash of humor. Sometimes the situation calls for a chuckle and other times the cast will have you laughing until your sides hurt. That ebb and flow is the sign of farce done right.
Director Pat Murphy shows that he knows how to cast and direct comedy. He has an excellent set from Eric Luchen and costumes from Elizabeth Monti to help sell the story. Lighting design by Sam Stephen, sound design by Jonesy Jones, and technical direction by Jason Clark are all nicely done. Alex Trinh on run crew, scenic artist Cami Tokowitz, and R&D Choreography all deserve a nod for their contributions to an overall great show.
The play has not been Americanized, leaving in the original British terminology that some Chicago audiences may not be familiar with. Thankfully the program features definitions of some of the key terms that come up in the Ray Cooney comedic delight. Make sure you peruse them prior to the show starting.
It Runs in the Family carries on now through December 18 at Citadel Theatre located at 300 S. Waukegan Road in Lake Forest. It’s a bit of a trek from the city, but well worth the drive. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM. There are also select Wednesday matinees on November 23 and December 14 at 1 PM. There is no performance on Thanksgiving Day.
For tickets call the box office at (847) 735-8554 ext. 1 or visit www.CitadelTheatre.org.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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This year, I had the great pleasure of appearing in the hilarious Paul Rudnick comedy I Hate Hamlet for Elgin Theatre Company in the greater Chicago area. To our great honor, I Hate Hamlet has been nominated for seven prizes in the 2022 Broadway World Chicago Theatre Awards:
- Best Direction of a Play – Regina Belt-Daniels
- Best Ensemble Performance
- Best Play
- Best Performer in a Play – Rikki Lee Travolta
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – David Gasior
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – Trace Gamache
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – Travis Greuel
If you want to voice your support for the Elgin Theatre Company production of I Hate Hamlet, you can cast your vote at: https://www.broadwayworld.com/chicago/voteregion.cfm