Goodman's 'Lottery Day' caps Ike Holter's ambitious Chicago 'Rightlynd Saga'

  • Mallory (J. Nicole Brooks) devises a dubious cash prize contest during her backyard barbecue party in the world premiere of Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.

    Mallory (J. Nicole Brooks) devises a dubious cash prize contest during her backyard barbecue party in the world premiere of Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Goodman Theatre

  • Nunley (Tony Santiago), center, endures taunts from Zora (Sydney Charles) as other party guests look on during an unconventional contest for cash in Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Goodman Theatre.

    Nunley (Tony Santiago), center, endures taunts from Zora (Sydney Charles) as other party guests look on during an unconventional contest for cash in Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Goodman Theatre. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Goodman Theatre

 
 
Posted4/11/2019 6:00 AM

"Lottery Day" -- ★ ★ ★

"Lottery Day" delivers a comic and dramatic win -- as well as a victory lap -- for prolific Chicago playwright Ike Holter. And audiences can enjoy the payout as well thanks to a raucous world-premiere production at Goodman Theatre.

 

The play marks a celebratory, elegiac conclusion to Holter's ambitious seven-play "Rightlynd Saga." He packed each of his savvy works, set in his Rightlynd neighborhood of the fictional 51st Ward, with real-life, ripped-from-the-headlines Chicago issues -- from school closures in "Exit Strategy" to self-made superheroes tackling gang violence in "Prowess." Die-hard theater fans, who first discovered Holter's early works in tiny storefront spaces, could follow recurring characters throughout the cycle.

"Lottery Day" is the same, though you don't need to have seen previous "Rightlynd" plays to go with the flow.

Ezekiel (Tommy Rivera-Vega), aloft, revs up party guests in the fictional 51st "Rightlynd" Ward in the world premiere of Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.
Ezekiel (Tommy Rivera-Vega), aloft, revs up party guests in the fictional 51st "Rightlynd" Ward in the world premiere of Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Goodman Theatre

Director Lili-Anne Brown's production promises fun from the start.

"Lottery Day" takes place at a backyard barbecue party thrown by the powerful neighborhood matriarch Mallory (J. Nicole Brooks). At first, it looks like Mallory is hosting the gathering to annoy her nosy and easily offended neighbor Vivien (Michele Vazquez). Vivien's angularly modernistic home shows just how much Rightlynd has gentrified and changed (a major credit to set designer Arnel Sancianco's realistic scenic work).

But Mallory is really using the party to mask the anniversary of a family tragedy. And the carefully curated guest list of Rightlynd regulars could potentially turn friends into foes -- especially when Mallory reveals weird cash prize contests.

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Holter pens snappy and overlapping dialogue throughout "Lottery Day." He also mines humor from his characters as they indulge in copious amounts of liquor and frequent puffs of pot.

Ricky (Pat Whalen), left, sips Malort as former close friends Cassandra (McKenzie Chinn) and Zora (Sydney Charles) touch on past disputes in the world premiere of Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Goodman Theatre.
Ricky (Pat Whalen), left, sips Malort as former close friends Cassandra (McKenzie Chinn) and Zora (Sydney Charles) touch on past disputes in the world premiere of Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Goodman Theatre. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Goodman Theatre

Pat Whalen as the former vice principal Ricky and Aurora Adachi-Winter as the theater artist Tori are both hilarious as they get overly analytical about their increasingly altered states.

There's also great character work by Sydney Charles as the former aldermanic employee Zora and Mckenzie Chinn as money manager Cassandra. Their characters' stewing rivalry entertainingly teeters on the brink of getting either rancorously renewed or warily appeased.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Also adept are Robert Cornelius as car salesman Robinson, Tony Santiago as the store owner Nunley and Tommy Rivera-Vega as homeless wannabe rapper Ezekiel. They reveal a world of hurt as others jab at emotional wounds over broken ambitions and deferred dreams.

Avery (James Vincent Meredith) readies the meats for a wild backyard barbecue in the world premiere of Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Goodman Theatre.
Avery (James Vincent Meredith) readies the meats for a wild backyard barbecue in the world premiere of Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Goodman Theatre. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Goodman Theatre

But the main dramatic action focuses on Mallory, and Brooks exposes tremendous depth as a woman haunted by painful losses. Though Mallory is a master manipulator, she gets hurt and violently outraged when a secret is exposed involving her close family friend, Avery (a powerfully stoic and commanding James Vincent Meredith).

If there's one aspect of "Lottery Day" that feels arbitrary, it's the reason behind Mallory pushing her guests through strange party games. Yes, there's a stinging revelation about why her cash prize is so contentious. But her malevolent motivation is puzzling.

Neighbors Vivien (Michele Vazques), left, and Mallory (J. Nicole Brooks) come to a wary agreement in Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Goodman.
Neighbors Vivien (Michele Vazques), left, and Mallory (J. Nicole Brooks) come to a wary agreement in Ike Holter's "Lottery Day" at Goodman. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Goodman Theatre

Otherwise, "Lottery Day" wins out as a fitting conclusion to the "Rightlynd Saga."

With Holter breaking into TV (The New York Times credited him as one of the writers for the new FX series "Fosse/Verdon"), we can only hope that he won't entirely abandon Chicago's theater scene. As the Rightlynd Saga has shown, he excels at reflecting the messy complexities of living in the Windy City.

• • •

Location: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, (312) 443-3800 or goodmantheatre.org

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday (also April 16 and 21), 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (also April 25); through April 28

Running time: About two hours

Tickets: $15-$49

Parking: Area pay garages and limited metered street parking

Rating: For mature audiences; features adult language, drinking and drug use

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