The intimate 350-seat Owen Theater at the Goodman is launching another world premiere: this time Chicago writer and DePaul graduate Ike Holter’s final chapter in his seven play Rightlynd saga, "Lottery Day."
Centering on a fictitious 51st Chicago ward, Holter’s dramedy involves neighborhood matriarch Mallory who has invited residents (from activists to artists) to a backyard BBQ that promises a special, mysterious surprise. Mallory has lost her husband and daughter to an unspeakable act of violence; she has created a new family, a neighborhood family she has safe guarded and assisted for years.
"Lottery Day" has a superbly gifted and diverse ensemble who bring to life immediately recognizable Chicago personalities: the teacher/activist Ricky, (an enjoyable Pat Whalen); the theater artist Tori (Aurora Winter, and believe me theater is in her blood!); a bitterly strong resident Zora (the beautiful Sydney Charles who also delivers the poignant line “why stay and fight when there’s nothing there anymore?”); the financially grounded Cassandra (McKenzie Chinn); the neighborhood store owner Nunley (Tony Santiago), the skateboarding DJ (Tommy Rivera-Vega), and my favorite, the tall and elegant Robert Cornelius, who portrays car dealer Robinson, the witness and recognizer of what’s truly happening.
They are all important to Mallory’s past, current existence, neighborhood, and heart.
The three leads are even more amazing. Crystal Lake resident and Raue Marketing director Michele Vazquez is Vivien, the attractive window-peeping gentrifying antagonist. But here’s the rub: Vazquez is so skilled and fine an actress that you hate her while you like her.
James Vincent Meredith’s Avery is warm, subtle, nuanced and credible; you fall in love with him the minute he appears onstage with the buckets of Moo and Oink meats. But it is J. Nicole Brooks as the charismatic Mallory who captivates, and ensnares your heart, curiosity, and understanding. You can not keep your eyes off or away from her. Brooks commands, radiates; she’s passionate and believably altruistic.
Director Lili-Anne Brown gifts us with an honest and raucous production. Brown’s clear attention to community and belonging is a marvelous statement. Holter’s dedication to current themes and Chicago topics are evident, much to the delight and commentary of the audience.
The creative team enhances it all: Arnel Sancianco’s set design is a realistic showing of grass patches and visible steaming BBQ drum, Samantha C. Jones’ costumes perfectly fit each character, from pearls to ripped jeans and Andre J. Pluess’ sound design is huge-you’ll want to join in the onstage singing and dancing. Holter even says “if you’re not going to a party where people sing along with the chorus of a song that’s playing, you’re not going to the right parties”.
The most prophetic line is spoken by car salesman Robinson. In response to another character’s statement, “neighborhoods change”, he replies quietly, “people change neighborhoods.” And therein lies the best summary of this play I could ever give. Goodman’s "Lottery Day" is worth taking a chance on; it’s a winner that pays off exuberantly.
• Regina Belt-Daniels continues to do what she loves best: teach, write, travel, direct, and act. A District 47 special educator, she has served on the boards of TownSquare Players, the Raue Center for the Performing Arts and currently serves on the It’s Huntley Showtime Advisory Committee and RCLPC Theatre Board. She will be directly RCLPC’s summer production of MORNING’S AT SEVEN.
If you Go
Owen Theater at the Goodman
170 N. Dearborn, Chicago
Thru April 28
Two hours with one 15 minute intermission