Playwright: Ike Holter
At: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: GoodmanTheatre.org. Runs through: April 28
"If you want to start it, then make sure you stop to finish it."
This advicefrom a rap song repeated several times in Ike Holter's new play Lottery Daycould apply to the playwright himself. Lottery Day is the culmination of Ike Holter's Rightlynd Cycle, a series of seven plays focusing on a changing neighborhood in Chicago's fictional 51st Ward, Rightlynd. As the neighborhood has gentrified, we have witnessed what happens to those who are left behind along with the anger and emotions that have been stirred up by the changes. This final play brings back many of the characters from the earlier ones for a final time as it wraps up the series in a literal party.
The party is being thrown by the neighborhood's matriarch Mallory ( J. Nicole Brooks ), who has "been through it"not only witnessing the loss of her old stomping grounds but also suffering powerful personal loss as well from Chicago's well-known gun violence. But this is not a typical Mallory party ( which we are told tend to be epic ); this one has a surprise that the host has in store for her guests, a prize she has been saving to give to whichever one of them wins the games she has set up, and Mallory too is determined to "stop to finish" what she starts.
Invited to this party is her next-door neighbor Vivian ( Michele Vasquez ), owner of a brand-new concrete home whose story-high windows tower over Mallory's much older home's backyard, along with many of her old friends: Avery ( James Vincent Meredith ), who spends much of the party cooking a vast amount of meat ( you name the kind and it's probably here ); and characters played by Aurora Adachi-Winter, McKenzie Chinn, Sydney Charles, Robert Cornelius, Tommy Rivera-Varga, Tony Santiago and Pat Whalen. Many of these characters were featured in the earlier plays in the cycle and have been brought back for one last opportunity to use the backyard party as a vehicle to air their frustrations about not only gentrification and violence but the myriad things wrong with their neighborhood and their city, including but not limited to aldermanic privilege and charter schools.
It isn't necessary to have seen the other plays, though. Many of the beautifully-written characters may have originated in other plays, but they are fully rounded in this one; Holter is careful to allow each of then to take the focus of the rowdy bash with its loud, overlapping dialogue, music and humor. Nothing here is cheap or unearned; this gifted young playwright has created a world and populated it with dynamic characters with lives of their own, and director Lili-Anne Brown makes sure that they and the party remain alive and vibrant throughout the play.
It isn't necessary to be familiar with the inner workings of Chicago to understand this play or this cycle of plays, though it undoubtedly adds layers. Like the Pittsburgh neighborhood where August Wilson set his century cycle, Rightlynd is a place of its own but also a recognizable part of American urbanity. Its problems are not unique to this little neighborhood; rather, Holter is using Rightlynd to ask perfectly timed questions about what happens to the small pockets of any U.S. city when the old stores and homes disappear and are replaced by people with no collective memory of what the place has been. Lottery Day feels like what it is: a poignant farewell bash dedicated to the memory of a lifestyle. You won't easily forget it.