LAKE FOREST – When Citadel Theater Artistic Director Scott Phelps selected “Ordinary People” to open the playhouse’s 2015-16 season, he had a serious message in mind for the audience while some associated with the production have found a way to lighten the experience a little.
The stage version of the 1980 movie set in Lake Forest, which won four Academy Awards including best picture, runs through October 18 at Citadel’s West Lake Forest High School campus location.
The story centers around a Lake Forest High School student, Conrad Jarrett. Jarrett and his brother, Buck Jarrett, were in a boating accident on Lake Michigan where Buck Jarrett died. Part of Conrad Jarrett’s response to the loss was an attempted suicide.
Phelps, a former Lake Forest resident who now lives in Libertyville, said special performances are done for an audience of high school students only. There are talks afterward with the cast and mental health professionals to let the teens express their feelings. He said 20% of teens have some sort of depression ranging from bipolar disorder to little sadness.
“We’ve had some (teenage) suicides here. Some kids stepped in front of Metra trains,” said Phelps, whose four children went to Lake Forest High School. “I wanted their voices to be heard. If we help one kid deal with feelings of depression we’ve done our job.”
While Phelps wants the play to help teens and others to learn about dealing with loss, “Ordinary People” first had an impact on Lake Forest in 1979 when the film was shot on location in the city and surrounding areas. It starred Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton. It was the directorial debut for Robert Redford.
“There were 80 Lake Forest High School students in it and hundreds of (local) people were extras,” Phelps, who also directs the play, said. “People can still remember seeing Robert Redford having lunch at the Lantern.”
The lasting impression of the film crew around Lake Forest spurred the idea of a lighter side of the theatrical encounter. People attending Sunday performances can take a narrated bus tour going by many of the spots in Lake Forest and Highland Park featured in the movie, according to Cheryl Ashley, who organized the tour.
“Anyone who is 35-plus and was around Lake Forest then has a memory of the movie being made. This is a great way to add some fun to the show,” Ashley said. “Everyone knows what it’s about,” she added referring to the plot.
Though the final performance is Oct. 18, the last bus tour leaves the west campus at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 11 returning at approximately 2:45 for the 3 p.m. performance, Ashley said.
After departing from the high school’s west campus, the bus heads to 1199 Lincoln Avenue South in Highland Park where the Jarrett family—played by Moore, Sutherland and Hutton—lived before it goes to 1866 Sheridan Road in Highland Park where Conrad Jarrett had sessions with a psychiatrist played by Hirsch, according to Citadel Marketing Director Frank Ettinger.
The riders will then head north on Sheridan Road to Lake Forest going by the First Presbyterian Church which was in the opening scene setting the story in the city and Lake Forest College where swimming pool scenes were shot, according to Ettinger.
From there it goes to the home at 308 Scott Street where Conrad’s girlfriend lived, past Lake Forest High School on McKinley Road and by 880 Green Bay Road, the scene of a Christmas party, before going back to the theater.
“We really enjoyed it,” Patti Tucker of Lake Forest said of her bus ride. “The bus was nearly full and so was the theater.”
Remaining performances are at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8 and 15, 8 p.m. Oct. 10, 16 and 17 and 3 p.m. Oct. 11 and 18, according to the Citadel website.