Citadel to feature new plays by writers with Chicago and North Shore ties -2024/25 season

Bows at the opening night on Broadway of THE COTTAGE. Left to right: Nehal Joshi, Sandy Rustin, Jason Alexander. Photo by Rebecca J Michelson
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When Lake Forest’s Citadel Theatre opens its 2024-25 season with the comedy The Cottage, it will be a homecoming of sorts for its playwright, Sandy Rustin, who was raised in Glenview and graduated from Northwestern University. Rustin credits the many opportunities she had in North Shore primary and secondary schools as instrumental in preparing her for successful careers as a playwright and comedian. The Cottage was the first of her plays to be produced on Broadway, and it seems only fitting that its first regional production after Broadway will be back on the North Shore, at Citadel.

Citadel’s season will be bookended with a new play by another writer with ties to the area. Paul Stroili moved to Chicago from the east coast in 1987 because he felt it was the best environment in which to grow as an actor and playwright. His play A Jukebox for the Algonquin, which had its world premiere in 2023 at The Purple Rose Theatre, the Equity-affiliated theatre founded by actor Jeff Daniels, will close Citadel’s 2024-25 season in April and May.

Together, the two writers make a great case for the Chicago area as a community that nurtures artistic talent. 

Sandy Rustin, MurphyMade Photography

The Cottage’s Sandy Rustin began acting and writing in North Shore schools

Rustin knew she wanted to be a playwright and actress at least since she was in sixth grade and took advantage of the many opportunities the North Shore offered for developing her theater talents. By the time she was twelve years old, she had already played the title role in Annie in a joint production between Marie Murphy School and Sunset Ridge School in Northfield, and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at a summer program in Evanston.

At New Trier High School, she began her writing career by contributing to the school’s annual student-written musical, Lagniappe-Potpourri. She later built on that experience at Northwestern University when she contributed to that school’s annual Waa-Mu Show. She also attended improv, acting, and writing classes at the Piven Theatre Workshop in Evanston.

Sandy credits her family for steeping her in comedy traditions. “My father was really funny,” she explains. “He’d play comedy albums at home all the time and listening to them, I was learning from the greats. Comedy always felt very natural to me to write, and while I’ve written a lot of it, it’s not the only genre I write in.”

From the Broadway production of THE COTTAGE Left: Laura Bell Bundy, Right: Eric McCormack. Photo by Joan Marcus

Sandy moved to New York shortly after graduation from NU and quickly found work as an actress, getting cast in a national tour of Grease. She worked steadily as an actress in New York, in stage shows including I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. performed regularly with the Upright Citizens Brigade improv troupe, acted in television series, and did voice over work. 

Her career started to move in a new direction in 2005. “I became a parent, and began writing more,” she explains. “The flexibility of being able to work at home on my own schedule was a much better fit to my new demands of parenting.” She drew on that experience for her musical Rated P for Parenthood, which was optioned by ABC Studios, who developed it into a 30-minute musical comedy pilot. Her stage adaptation of the film Clue, based on the ever-popular board game and beloved film, was one of the most produced plays in the U.S. of the ’22-’23 and has had over 3,000 productions.

A remark overheard backstage in 2014 at the off-Broadway musical Found, in which Sandy was appearing, led to her Broadway debut as a playwright. “After a performance one night,  I was speaking to a theatre producer, Victoria Lang, who was lamenting the lack of female-focused plays, I told her about my script, The Cottage,  which I’d written in the style of Noel Coward, but with a feminist twist. 

“Lang became interested. It happened that Jason Alexander was looking for a play with which to make his Broadway debut as a director and agreed to direct it. Production was delayed due to COVID, but it all came together when we opened on Broadway in 2023.”

The Cottage is set in an English country manor house and concerns three couples, each of whom are engaged in infidelities. One couple, Beau and Sylvia, are enjoying the afterglow of an illicit night together while awaiting the arrival of their spouses, when Sylvia decides to tell them about their affair. 

The Cottage finished its Broadway run in October 2023 and is now available for regional  productions, many of which will premiere in the ’25 season. Rustin says, “Citadel jumped through hoops to get rights right away and to open their season with it.” The fact that Citadel’s production will be the first in Illinois and will be in the North Shore will be a fitting tribute to all the teachers and schools in the area that helped to develop her young talent and allowed her to achieve her dream of becoming a playwright and actress.

Paul Stroili, Zoe Mckenzie Photography

Skokie’s Paul Stroili has a hit with his play A Jukebox for the Algonquin.

If Sandy Rustin is a testament to the Chicago area’s ability to nurture creative talent in youths, Paul Stroili, author of A Jukebox for the Algonquin, exemplifies why so many adults flock to Chicago to pursue careers in the creative arts.  He moved to Chicago from New York in 1987 right after attending the State University of New York at New Paltz. “I chose to move to Chicago because it was a city with a good arts scene in which you could afford to live, unlike New York City, where you might have to work two or three jobs just to pay the rent.  How does that leave you time to start a theater company?”

Paul worked in the Chicago storefront theater scene as one of the original members of the CT20 Ensemble and the Illegitimate Players, a company that created satires of classics, with titles like The Glass Mendacity and Of Grapes and Nuts. He was in the original Chicago cast of the long-running Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding, but in 1996 he left Chicago for Los Angeles, where he did a lot of film and TV work as well as creating and touring in his own one-man show, show, Straight Up with a Twist, which enjoyed over 1,000 performances nationwide culminating in an extended Off Broadway run.

He returned to the Chicago area in 2016 to direct the revival of Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding and has kept the Chicago area as his home base.

He returned to the Chicago are in 2016 to direct the revival of Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding and has kept the Chicago area as his home base, currently living in Skokie. “Chicago has a wonderful Midwestern vibe. The creative community is supportive of each other. There’s a real sense of building something together – as when artists band together to create a storefront company, just as my friends and I did in the ‘80s and people continue to do today. It doesn’t have the sort of ‘showcase mentality’ you find in some other cities, where many projects are done with the intention of them leading to film or television. Here, people are looking to create theatre that will stand on its own.”

Jeff Daniels (left) and Paul Stroili (right) at a fundraiser for the Purple Rose Theatre.  Photo by Danna Segrest

Though his residence is in suburban Chicago, and though he continues to do film and TV work in the Chicago area, he’s found an artistic home a few hundred miles away in Chelsea, Michigan, near Ann Arbor. He’s a resident artist at the Purple Rose Theater, founded by stage screen actor Jeff Daniels as a theater dedicated to the development of new American plays. It was there that A Jukebox for the Algonquin received its world premiere and became one of the best-selling and most popular plays in the Purple Rose’s history. The theatre will also present the World

Paul Stroili (Left) as Dr. Watson and Mark Colson (right) as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of the Fallen Soufflé, at the Purple Rose Theatre, Chelsea, Michigan, in December 2019. Photo by Sean Carter Photography

Premiere of his next play, My Mother and The Michigan/Ohio War in the Spring of 2025.

Stroili was inspired to write Jukebox, about a group of residents of a senior care center by his memories of a summer job at such an institution back in his school days. “I had a menial job and I thought it was going to be boring,” he says, “ but I got to know and enjoy the residents so much that the experience stayed with me.” He insists A Jukebox for the Algonquin is not “a play about old people, it’s a play about people who have lived longer.”

Stroili says interest in producing A Jukebox for the Algonquin has grown organically, with seven productions scheduled for the upcoming year. Citadel’s Chicago-area premiere in spring 2025 will have special meaning for Paul, though, as it will be his premiere as a playwright in the  chosen home where he began his career and has spent nearly half his professional life.

There’s a certain symmetry to the Chicago area’s role in the career development of these two playwrights. How Sandy Rustin left Chicago for New York at about the same age that the east coaster Paul Stroili left New York State to begin a theatrical career in Chicago. That both have achieved stature in the theatrical world is a testament to the Chicago community’s supportive environment for developing talent. Citadel Theatre is proud to bring the work of these two artists of whom the Chicago creative community can be justly proud.

Paul Stroili (left) and Terrence Howard (right) in the television series Empire

Citadel’s 2024-25 season will also include the musical Dames at Sea, to be performed in November and December; and Lauren Gunderson’s teen drama I and You, which will play in February and March. 

Season subscriptions are available for the full four-show season at $120.00, or as flex passes that can be used for the patron’s choice of either three shows for $100.00 or two shows for $70.00. Preview flex passes are also available for $40 two shows), $50 (three shows), or $60 (four shows). Subscriptions and single tickets are now on sale at

Citadel Theatre is in residence in the West Campus of the Lake Forest School District at 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest. Further information and ticketing is available on the company’s website at



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