Three stories deliver a series of messages in "The Mars Assignment"


Kristen Ellis (Amy), Eric (Joe McCauley) with daughter Alison (McKenzie Franklin)

The Mars Assignment opens a window on an issue that everyone deals with in their daily life but rarely talks about, as illustrated in this Collaboraction Theatre Company production which runs through Nov. 30 in their Pentagon Theater, Flat Iron Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., in Wicker Park. 


Diane's (Georgann Charuhas) comedic act is known as "Sad Diane"

Three story lines, involving a stand-up comedian preparing for a tour, an advertising executive pitching to a new client and a school girl with a class project converge around a contemporary family of three and one common theme...depression and other mental illness. 

Filled with everyday actions and reactions, this 90-minute play is punctuated with delightful humor and uncomfortable feelings of awkwardness. It moves from home to school and office, using different stage levels.

The daughter's school assignment about Mars is the vehicle that moves them all through their individual lives as they touch others. 

Playwright and Director Ronan Marra artfully showed how ordinary people avoid facing depression, whether it is their own or others. The family and individuals seem to fear the stigmas of mental illness more than addressing the problem. 

"I've lived with anxiety and OCD since I was in first grade," explained Marra. "It's frustrating and fascinating to me that so many people live with mental illness and yet it is so misunderstood or ignored." 


Jeff as played by Justin Wade Wilson

No doubt his own challenges enriched his ability to engage the audience in experiencing the characters' emotions and fears. This story was a perfect fit with how Elsa Hiltner wanted this subject matter presented. 

Hiltner the show's Co-Creator and Assistant Director noticed that most shows about depression and other mental illnesses depicted the characters in a negative way. 

"Addiction, suicide attempts, and self-harm are so often used to further the plot or create the 'climax' of the story," she explained. Realizing that those portrayals become ingrained in peoples minds and subsequently become society's view of these illnesses, she wanted to present the story like real life not hype. 

The six person cast made the characters so real that many audience members shared how the show reflected their own experiences, during a post show talk back. 


Ronan Marra and Elsa Hiltner

Collaboraction's Artistic Director Anthony Mosley explains that when Hiltner, a Collaboraction company member, told him that she wanted to create a piece with her longtime collaborator at Signal Ensemble Theatre, Marra. It was to explore the stigmas and misunderstandings about mental illness and Mosley was excited because it was a match for how Collaboraction works. 

"We look for passionate lead artists who show a deep, personal connection to the subject matter and the ability to lead the creation of a new piece of theatre that will incite thought, dialogue and action." 

And so they have. 

To encourage more public dialogue about mental illnesses, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is engaging audiences in conversation following some of the shows. For tickets to the show, go to the Collaboraction website

Cast members: Amy/Jennifer, Kristin E. Ellis; Eric/Jaxson, Joe McCauley; Allison, McKenzie Franklin; Diane/Katie, Georgann Charuhas; Jeff/Craig, Justin Wade Wilson; and Christopher, Joseph Galizia. 

Production staff: Producer, Sara Moeller; Set Designer, Ashley Ann Woods; Lighting Designer, Maya Michele Fein; Sound Designer, Anthony P. Ingram; Costume Designer, Caitlin R. Dalton; Props Designer, Holly McCauley; Stage Manager, Michelle Roth; Assistant Stage Manager, Caitlin Body; Production Manager, Kelly Butler; Technical Director, Becca Venable; Master Electrician, Domenic Laury; Graphic Designer, Rae Shuman; and Photographer Joel Maisonet.

Photos by Joel Maisonet



Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Insert images and media with <pp_img> or <pp_media>. See formatting options for syntax.

More information about formatting options