OK. So, in case you’re joining us for the first time, here are a few quick points to catch you up:
Mallory is Thanos.
Tori is Hermione.
Cassandra is definitely Cassandra.
Zora is not taking your shit.
Avery is pretending he doesn’t know.
Robinson is tired.
Ezekiel is not.
Nunley is with your girl.
Ricky is high as fuck.
Vivien is… here.
Setting: Rightlynd, a fictional ward within the very real city of Chicago.
Time: A future you can see off in the distance, like the Willis (née Sears) Tower from the Dan Ryan just as you take the exit to Lake Shore.
Drink Special: Malört. Just Malört.
Presented thrustily in the largest house that any of his plays have yet been produced in (for now), Ike Holter’s “Lottery Day” takes full advantage of its considerable digs. In the palace of the Owen, dialogue does not so much overlap as cascade into itself in euphoric cacophony. Even when they’re not participating in choreographed group sequences (Lili-Anne Brown being among the most ambidextrous directors in town when it comes to mixing “straight” and musical theater), the cast is always dancing. The first hour is a party, the kind you’re lucky to get invited to (especially if you’re of the caucasian persuasion). A parade of characters, a healthy mix of new and familiar faces (or as one might say, “people you love and people you need”), encircle and enshrine our host, who is not so much a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown as a woman very-fucking-much in the midst of one and doing a pretty poor job of disguising it, much to the consternation of a crowd who knows better than to say a damn thing about it. The second hour is something else entirely: a previously unaired nightmare “Double Dare” episode complete with an unenviable emotional obstacle course and a grand prize that nobody wants but everybody needs. There will be no runner-ups.
Suffice it to say: shit gets messy.
The set by Arnel Sancianco—who is among our city’s most promising young designers—might be the most Chicago thing you’ve ever seen, at least at the Goodman, and is bathed in magic-hour light (from Jason Lynch) and buffeted by a soundtrack of hip-hop, R&B, and neighborhood noise (sound design courtesy of Andre J. Pluess). The whole milieu looks like Spike Lee doing “Rear Window.” Good luck avoiding the impulse to join the cast onstage, especially during intermission, when the party continues even as the restricted-of-bladder crowd make their pilgrimage to the restrooms, while those who have been moved by the spirit (and spirits) of the evening head (back) to the bar. The cast is on fire, dialed-in, unhurried but hardly precious. They are by turns breathless and breezy. They hit their marks, nail their lines and have such a good-ass time you might forget what goddamn professionals they are. But please don’t. Give this crew the respect they’re due. They have more than earned it. And made it look easy, taboot.
While it’s tempting to take a eulogic tone when covering the conclusion of this seven-part series, why would you? As it is, Holter’s closing play has more to say about endings, inevitable or otherwise, and how best to mourn/celebrate/ignore/grieve/accept them than any one critic might hope to express, with each character given space to present their own preferred, booze-fueled methodology. For real: this play has more endings than “Lord of the Rings.” But they’re all worth it. Because you’re going to want to savor this one, like the last drink after a long night, as the morning sun and good sense begin to dawn on you. We are saying goodbye to a theatrical happening that has engrossed our little community for nearly half a damn decade. And that is legitimately melancholic. Everyone is entitled to feel the way they’re going to feel about it, especially Holter, Brown and the cast and crew, many of whom have been involved with multiple productions within this cycle. Shots will be poured out for this one when it closes, for sure.
Unlike for its fictional residents, whose neighborhood has all but disappeared before their eyes, despite doing their best (more or less, depending on who you ask) to preserve it from the forces of gentrification, political corruption and general social malaise, Rightlynd lives on. Iconic editions of “Exit Strategy” and “Sender” have already been published by Northwestern University Press, with “Prowess” arriving this fall and the rest to follow. Even more heartening has been a string of productions in New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles and Houston, as well as New Jersey, Wisconsin, and, most recently, a high school (!) in Connecticut. Now that’s some shit that would make the citizens of Rightlynd laugh, I bet. The thought of jokes about Malört and rips on Rahm coming from the mouths of babes in the mid-Atlantic… Well, don’t that just warm your frostbitten heart?
Holter has stated that he wants to raise Chicago’s profile in the theater world and beyond, to see his city as a complex character in the stories that take place within its wards. Time will tell if he gets his wish. He’s sure tried hard enough and that counts for something. Regardless of what the future holds, for those of us lucky enough to come along for the ride, it’s been a sincere pleasure and a hell of a good time. After many, many words written, there seems to be only one appropriate thing left to say:
And cheers! To Ike. To Rightlynd. And to Chicago. Winners. Losers. All. (Kevin Greene)
Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, (312)443-3800, goodmantheatre.org, $15-$49. Through April 28.