Lia D. Mortenson (1965-2023)
Lia D Mortenson was a stalwart member of the Chicago theater community, and an ensemble member of Provision Theater and The Den Theatre. She died from cancer at the age of 57.
Raised in Evanston as the daughter of two prominent academics at Northwestern University, Lia graduated from Indiana University in 1987, then moved back to the Chicago area to act, occasionally on screen but mostly in the Chicago theater. “She got her Equity card at age 24 and never looked back,” said Si Osborne, her former husband.
Mortensen worked constantly in leading roles in the booming 1990s and 2000s world of nonprofit theater in Chicago. At Northlight Theatre in 2002, she played Sally Talley in Lanford Wilson’s “Talley’s Folly,” a character trying to lose enough emotional baggage to fall in love. And in Steve Scott’s 2007 Goodman Theatre production of “Rabbit Hole,” Mortensen gave perhaps the most wrenching performance of her stage career, playing a mother who has lost a young child and must now navigate a new life in unimaginable circumstances.
Mortensen was a zesty, restless actress, ideally cast as an urbane sophisticate but fully capable of the deepest of dives into a character’s heart. In 2011, she did extraordinary work in a play called “The Big Meal” at Chicago’s former American Theater Company; it was a title that aptly expressed the bounty of one of her performances.
Her favorite role, said her daughter Jesse Osborne, was that of Grace in J.R. Sullivan’s production of Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer,” a huge hit in the 1990s at both the Turnaround Theatre and Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
In 2016, Mortensen, who had not generally done musicals, left her comfort zone entirely to play Joanne in the Writers Theatre production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” a role for which she seemed too young. But the director, William Brown, set up Mortensen’s character as a go-getter who had yet to learn how the wisdom of age should and can overcome unwise temptation. It was a notably empowered and empowering take on an often-problematic character and a reminder of Mortensen’s comfort with the biggest artistic risks.
Lia is survived by her mother, Beverly P. Mortensen, her daughters Jesse and Ozzy Osborne and partners Marisol Garcia and Lily Turner.
Chicago theater credits: City of Conversation, Ten Chimneys, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Sky Girls, Talley’s Folly (Northlight Theatre); Rabbit Hole (Goodman Theatre); Closer, Faith Healer (Steppenwolf Theatre Company); An Inspector Calls, Night and Day (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company); No Wake (Route 66 Theatre Company); Romeo and Juliet, Pericles, All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure (Chicago Shakespeare Theater); The Other Place, Annapurna (Profiles Theatre); Jacob, Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Spoon River Anthology, The Hiding Place (Provision Theatre); Fighting Words (Rivendell Theatre Ensemble); Well, A Doll’s House, Macbeth, The Illusion (Next Theatre Company); Ghosts, Alls Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Serious Money (Court Theatre); Company, The Mystery of Love & Sex (Writers Theater); Cymbeline (First Folio Theater).
Directing credits include Bus Stop, Quality of Life (Den Theatre) and Jacob (Provision Theatre).
TV credits: Empire, Shameless, Chicago Med, Mix Tape, Electric Dreams, Crisis, Easy Abby, Chicago Fire, The Onion, Chicago Code, Family Practice.
Film credits: Consumed (2015), Market Value, Resurrecting McGinns (2015), A View From Tall (2015), Imperfections (2015), Market Value (2015) Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), Blink.