Goodman Theatre presents LOTTERY DAY Review: Dramatic Conclusion

James Vincent Meredith (Avery), Tony Santiago (Nunley), Michele Vazquez (Vivien), Pat Whalen (Ricky), J. Nicole Brooks (Mallory), Robert Cornelius (Robinson), Tommy Rivera-Vega (Ezekiel), Sydney Charles (Zora) and Aurora Adachi-Winter (Tori) in the Goodman world premiere of Lottery Day Liz Lauren

It’s the start of Act Two. Malory’s (J. Nicole Brooks) party is in full swing. Guests are drunk, and spread out throughout the yard. Some are in the midst of conversations, others are searching high and low for hidden gifts from the host, and some are doing a bit of both.

On one far end of the yard, we see Robinson (Robert Cornelius) and Ricky (Pat Whalen) in their own conversation about the state of the neighborhood. Ricky points out that the neighborhood has changed, and Robinson regretfully, but matter-of-factly explains:

People change neighborhoods, there’s a difference.”

Lottery Day concludes Ike Holter’s seven-play cycle called “The Rightlynd Saga.” This may be a small moment in the Goodman’s latest world premiere, but to any audience member who has even experienced one of the other plays in the saga, you will certainly notice the weight of Robinson’s line. The people make up the community, and the people of the Rightlynd community present at this party have a lot to say in the remaining time. At this point the best advice is for you to buckle up, because this calmer scene between Ricky and Robinson may be one of the last chances to breathe before everything explodes.

Goodman Theatre presents World Premiere of Lottery Day

Written by Ike Holter and directed by Lili-Anne Brown, Lottery Day follows Mallory (J. Nicole Brooks), the matriarch of the quickly-gentrifying Rightlynd neighborhood. She invites 9 guests from the block to an epic barbeque – one that she has been anxiously planning for a long time. However, the party involves far more than just some drinks and heaping piles of meat. Mallory has some news to share – news that could change that lives of everyone involved. There is a “lottery” to be won, and whether the win will be for better or for worse, that has yet to be determined.

J. Nicole Brooks (Mallory) in the Goodman world premiere of Lottery Day Liz Lauren

Celebrating the “The Rightlynd Saga”

This final installment in Holter’s “Rightlynd Saga” has some exciting and lively moments of celebration and fun.  In what strikes this reviewer as a brilliant collaboration between Holter and Brown, Lottery Day certainly does not hold back in dramatic tension. As an audience member, you might even feel yourself physically lean in with each new discovery – from the first clue at Mallory’s intentions for her party to the reveal of the contest through which she will find a winner for the event’s “lottery.”

Sydney Charles (Zora), Aurora Adachi-Winter (Tori) and Pat Whalen (Ricky) in the Goodman world premiere of Lottery Day Liz Lauren

To those who have experienced others in the saga, you might recognize some of the favorite characters and actors, such as Pat Whalen who reprises the role of Ricky from Jackalope Theatre’s production of Exit Strategy, Aurora Adachi-Winter returns with Tori from Red Rex earlier in Steep Theatre’s season, Robert Cornelius as the hilarious Robinson from Victory Garden’s 2018 production of Rightlynd, and Sydney Charles who returns to the stage as Nora from Prowess in Jackalope Theatre’s 2016 production.  It was easy to tell that the Opening Night audience was full of long-time fans who cheered at each throwback to those earlier productions; however, that knowledge is certainly not necessary to be able to appreciate Holter’s play. As with any of the installments, Holter explores the complexities of human nature, and much as Robinson explains in act two, how a neighborhood changes along with the community. As much as we might try to hold on to the past, change is inevitable, and Holter blows that concept and the repercussions wide-open in this world premiere.

Masterfully Crafted

 The story itself takes place in Mallory’s backyard, and Scenic Designer Arnel Sancianco’s expertly detailed set presents the audience with a yard full of color and life, complete with two strings of lights that hang above. Lighting Designer Jason Lynch completes the look with flashing lights that make an especially exciting statement when the group dances begin. However, what is perhaps even more clever is what is happening behind the yard. On one side of the yard is the back of Mallory’s house – a house that has belonged to her for as long as anyone can remember, and many of the characters repeat throughout how she raised them there. On the other side of the yard is a fence, behind which is a modern condo that belongs to Vivian (Michele Vazquez) – Mallory’s nosey neighbor who disapproves of the celebrations out back. Through the overall design, Sancianco skillfully captures the intrusion of gentrification on the neighborhood – no matter how hard the characters may try to fight it.  The force is always peeking in.

Brown masterfully utilizes this design to its fullest potential. No matter where one looks on stage, there is always something to see – whether characters are having a conversation down stage, or Avery (James Vincent Meredith) is cooking on the grill up by the house, or Vivian is peaking into the yard from the not so subtle viewpoint of her condo’s window. The stage is constantly full of life, creating not only the very real feel of a party, but also the sense that nothing is truly private.

Tony Santiago (Nunley), Robert Cornelius (Robinson), Michele Vazquez (Vivien), Pat Whalen (Ricky), Tommy Rivera-Vega (Ezekiel), J. Nicole Brooks (Mallory), James Vincent Meredith (Avery), McKenzie Chinn (Cassandra), Sydney Charles (Zora) and Aurora Adachi-Winter (Tori) in the Goodman world premiere of Lottery Day Liz Lauren
McKenzie Chinn (Cassandra), Sydney Charles (Zora), Pat Whalen (Ricky), Michele Vazquez (Vivien) and Aurora Adachi-Winter (Tori) in the Goodman world premiere of Lottery Day Liz Lauren

Striking Character Portrayals

Lottery Day is a play about the people in a community, and this power-house ensemble brings those vivid characters to life, along with the complex and emotional relationships.

Brooks and Meredith kick off the show with a glimpse at the complicated relationship between Mallory and Avery. As soon as Meredith enters the yard, Avery and Mallory immediately spark up a banter that is similar to that of an old married couple. Avery struggles to hold onto two enormous containers of meat, and Mallory dances around the yard, barely containing her obvious excitement. You might find yourself laughing along with Brooks and Meredith as they flirt and poke fun at each other, which only sets you up for a harder fall later when we find that Avery is actually the best friend of Mallory’s late husband, and their relationship is nothing more than friendship. Brown carefully crafts relationships like this throughout her play – full of complex tension that might leave you eager to see what unexpected turn will come next.

J. Nicole Brooks (Mallory) and James Vincent Meredith (Avery in the Goodman world premiere of Lottery Day Liz Lauren

Expert craft, top-notch cast, and a thought-provoking script makes Lottery Day one that should not be missed. At its core, this is a play about Chicago. Whether you are new to Ike Holter’s work or one who has been anxiously waiting for the saga’s conclusion, there is something for everyone to appreciate and consider. This writer for one had no problem joining the standing ovation at this opening night performance.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

Pat Whalen (Ricky), Sydney Charles (Zora) Tony Santiago (Nunley), Robert Cornelius (Robinson) and James Vincent Meredith (Avery) in the Goodman world premiere of Lottery Day Liz Lauren
Watch this video showing the TOP PICK PLAYS of 2019

When:

Running through April 28, 2019

Tuesdays at 7:30pm
Wednesdays at 7:30pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm

Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with intermission

Where:

Goodman Theatre
170 N Dearborn Street
Chicago, IL 60601

 

Photos: Liz Lauren

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago

 

About the Author:

Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.

Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.

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