Pictured: J. Nicole Brooks and James Vincent Meredith. Photo by Liz Lauren.
By Josh Flanders
“Lottery Day” takes place at barbeque set in an intimate backyard in Chicago’s fictitious 51st ward. With real, honest dialogue that explodes with the speed and ferocity of a machine gun, this play marks the seventh and final chapter in Ike Holter’s “Rightlynd Saga.” Imbued with substantial humor, as well as characters providing lots of local social commentary, it explores issues of racial tension, gentrification, family secrets, grief, and, since it’s a BBQ, all varieties of meat. And let’s not forget plenty of drinks and every variety of smoking pot from bong, to joint, to vape pen, possibly the most pot ever smoked on a Goodman stage (during a show).
The play centers around Mallory, brilliantly played by J. Nicole Brooks, who is outstanding as the matriarch of a neighborhood that is, like Wicker Park before it, becoming yuppified. Brooks brings unbridled vigor, humor, and deep emotional depth in her portrayal of a woman who tries to turn her grief into change. Mallory invites a variety of single, neighborhood friends for an epic party with the promise of a surprise. But dark secrets loom in the background of this otherwise festive occasion, and old grudges and long seeded resentments fester as the night wears on, illuminating past transgressions. Holter examines the fine line between honoring our past and exorcising it.
Director Lili-Anne Brown does a masterful job of presenting Holter’s dialogue with a rhythm that truly reflects the characters’ various intensities. James Vincent Meredith plays Avery, a longtime friend of Mallory’s and purveyor of all things meat, with delicious energy. Tommy Rivera-Vega is infectiously kinetic and funny as Ezekiel, a homeless man and aspiring rapper who finds shelter and support from Mallory.
Aurora Adachi-Winter is wonderfully odd and hilarious as Tori, a local theater owner, and Pat Whalen is equally hyper and offbeat as Ricky, the one white guy who successfully fits into this diverse crowd. Robert Cornelius brings a delightful joy and style as Robinson, a car dealer. Sydney Charles is intense and strong as Zora who harbors an old grudge with Cassandra, played by McKenzie Chinn with stoicism and compassion. And Tony Santiago is great as Nunley, tough on the outside but also thoughtful and kind. A huge shout out to set designer Arnel Sancianco who turns the backyard into a visual wonderland that makes the audience want to enter, at once magic and tragic.
Michele Vazquez plays Vivien, the Puerto Rican neighbor who literally looks down on Mallory and her noisy backyard parties from her house next door. The woman you love to hate, Vivien prides herself on flipping houses, symbolizing the change everyone in the play laments. “People change neighborhoods,” as Holter writes, neighborhoods don’t change people. Vivien sees these changes as making things “better,” “newer,” and while everyone else wants to blame her, the mayor, and the alderman for their neighborhood changing, as one character points out, no one wants to face their own responsibility for it.
Much like an actual lottery, the characters in Lottery Day all face the randomness of tragedy and success. Some struggle with their lot and others refuse to surrender, turning life into a game. And while the game Mallory plays in the second half seems a bit contrived, the journey overall is enormously enjoyable.
“Lottery Day” runs through April 28. For more information visit goodmantheatre.org.