Behind the Curtain at The Purple Rose: Caitlin Cavannaugh is riding the bus and chasing her dreams

Some people just light up a room the moment they walk through the door.

Caitlin Cavannaugh is one of those people – she delivers a unique and captivating combination of confidence, poise and spirit whether she is playing the flamboyant Marie Chartier in Sherlock Holmes and the Fallen Souffle or whether she is “playing” Caitlin Cavannaugh, a talented actress and a Resident Artist with the Purple Rose Theatre Company.

As Cavannaugh – well let’s call her Caitlin for this story, because it’s just a better fit for her “character” – walks into the conference room upstairs at the Purple Rose Theatre, she brings with her that same kind of energy she displays downstairs on that magnificent stage.

Caitlin has performed down the street at Tipping Point Theatre in Northville, down the highway with Murder Mystery Company Chicago and on the other side of the world in the 16th annual Sabanci International Theater Festival in Adana, Turkey. She even recently performed for well-known Polish director, producer, and screenwriter, Krzysztof Zanussi, in Out at Sea by Slawomir Mrozek with the Chopin Theatre.

But as she takes her seat inside that conference room in the Purple Rose, she is clearly at home and surrounded by her new family. After playing Chartier in “Sherlock Holmes and the Fallen Souffle” that ended in December, Caitlin is going back-to-back at the famous Chelsea theatre playing Darlene in Jeff Daniels’ brilliant Roadsigns, which runs through March 14.

“It’s really unique to Purple Rose,” Caitlin says. “A lot of places don’t have the same people going right into the next production. We had two or three weeks where we were in rehearsals for Roadsigns during the day and performing Sherlock at night.”

Caitlin then pauses … and considers what that means in the big picture.

We are lucky to have this work especially at the Purple Rose,” she says with a big smile. “It might be a lot of work but we are very happy to have it.

A few of her favorite roles have included Twelfth Night (Viola) and Carousel (Carrie) with Texas Shakespeare Festival and Marat/Sade (Jacques Roux) at the Sabanci International Theatre Festival in Adana, Turkey. Her previous work at the Purple Rose includes All My Sons, Never Not Once, Willow Run, and Harvey.

Which brings us to Roadsigns, a world-premiere play by Daniels. The play follows Lanny, a young poet, as he embarks on a journey to find the way to himself. This nostalgic tale is filled with rich characters who dwell on the outskirts of life, each following a dream or hoping to bump into one.

What the audience discovers is a special appreciation and connection to not only the journey but the characters on a bus all headed in the same direction but from very different places.

The play is directed by Guy Sanville, who has directed over 50 plays for the PRTC, including 39 world premieres, many written by Daniels, who founded the Purple Rose in 1991.

Caitlin says her character in Roadsigns is “very, very different” than Miss Chartier.

So, who is Darlene?

Caitlin laughs when asked about her character Darlene, whose small town isn’t big enough to provide her with the opportunities and dreams she has been chasing.

“Well, I’m one of those lives on the bus,” she says. “It’s a younger woman who is traveling from a very small town to Chicago to make something bigger of her life.”

Caitlin is from Chicago so she can easily identify with where Darlene is heading.

“I think of my grandparents because they are both from Ireland,” she says. “They didn’t know what America really was except that it was more – and that’s what I think of in terms of her story. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m going to make something of it. I’m going to have more than I would have had if I stayed.”

Caitlin, a proud graduate of Northern Illinois University (BFA Acting), says Daniel’s latest work is akin to sitting in a McDonalds with a bunch of strangers when all of a sudden, one by one, each person stands up and tells everyone in the restaurant their life story – their past, their dreams, their regrets, their hardships, their loves and their lost loves.

“In a way, Roadsigns reminds me of jury duty,” she says. “I have a distinct memory of being on jury duty and each person has to get up and kind of tell their story in a way. So you learn a lot about these 20 people sitting around you in like an hour. And in one way, that’s what Roadsigns is about. Each of these characters have a story. You can be sitting on a bus or a train or in a restaurant and there are whole lives sitting right next to you that you will never know about.”

This play has great relevance to what’s happening in the world today. “We don’t seem to look at each or talk to each other very much anymore these days,” Caitlin says. “And since you don’t know the person sitting next to you it’s easy to make a snap judgement about them and think that you know them. But in reality you have no idea who that person is.”

Which brings us back to that bus in Roadsigns.

“It’s about human stories,” she says. “You have seven people with seven whole lives intersect on this one trip. It’s just so cool.”

For more on Caitlin:

Ticket Information

All performances will be held at The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park Street, Chelsea, Michigan 48118.   Ticket prices range from $23 to $47 with special discounts for students, seniors, teachers, members of the military and groups (12+). For more information or to make reservations call (734) 433-7673 or go to

PURPLE ROSE PHOTOS by Danna Segrest 


Behind the Curtain at The Purple Rose: Actor David Bendena finds the right key in Jeff Daniels’ Roadsigns

Behind the Curtain at The Purple Rose: Guy Sanville & Jeff Daniels continue on the “road” of artistic inspiration