The Barbecue Sizzles In Goodman’s “Lottery Day” – By Rick and Brenda McCain

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"Lottery Day" focuses on the revelations that occur at a backyard cookout on the near West Side of Chicago.

Lottery Day
Through April 28
Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn Street.
Written by: Ike Holter
Directed by: Lili-Anne Brown
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Tickets: $15-$49
(Purchase at 312/443-3800 or www.goodmantheatre.org)
Highly Recommended

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In Goodman Theatre’s current play Lottery Day, it all goes down at a backyard barbeque! Everyone loves a good cookout, a place where you can hang out with your family and friends, eat some tasty food while listening to music and partaking in some great conversations.

But, what happens when you plan the party of the century with a huge cash incentive, only to see it unexpectedly turn out to be nothing like you imagined? What happens when that amazing plan to hide behind the mask of your sorrows takes a swift turn for the worst? You create an unforgettable performance, that’s what!

Goodman Theatre’s Lottery Day is a cookout masterpiece. It’s a high-spirited, funny and emotional drama that will have you laughing all the way home and reminiscing at your next cookout.

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Playwright Ike Holter

Playwright Ike Holter is known for his seven-play Rightlynd Saga series that includes Hit The Wall, Exit Strategy, Sender, Prowess, The Wolf at The End Of The Bock, and Red Rex.

Lottery Day, which is the last entry in his series, takes place in a rapidly redeveloped neighborhood near the West Side of Chicago. It is focused around the matriarch, Mallory (J. Nicole Brooks) who runs the neighborhood, knows everyone’s secrets, and is never afraid to use that knowledge to get what she wants.

At this particular cookout, Mallory wants to give out a large sum of cash, but there is a catch. You have to play a few games, and these competitive events will bring out the best and worst in those willing to win.

Mallory has had many legendary cookouts, but this one helps her hide from the past. There is the fear that the changing neighborhood will forget people like her. The gun violence that has torn her apart and left her devastated by the noises of a fragmented city. The tragedy of a loss that resulted in her never wanting to be alone in her house.

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(Left) Vivien, played by Michele Vazquez, talks with Mallory, played by J. Nicole Brooks.

Mallory also can’t stand her re-gentrification neighbor Vivien (Michele Vazquez), who is always peeking down at her from her oversized window. But despite it all, Mallory is determined that this party is going to be epic.

A cookout filled with food, fireworks, liquor, and pot lets the good times roll as politics, and open conversations met with suppressed pain, await each guest.

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The party gets good in “Lottery Day”

To top it off, Vivien comes over to visit Mallory, and after a brief discussion about child custody, she is invited to the barbeque. First, though, Mallory has to let Vivien know not to start any mess, “because, I’m letting you know, I know your business!”

Mallory’s intentions to revitalize her life-long community could be the very thing that will keep it separated, leaving her the last one standing and having to overcome her fears alone.

Ike Holter remarkably brings to focus the issues that plague Chicago in this larger-than-life melodrama with the right blend of seriousness and humor that captivates the audience. He also brings back many of the cast he used in previous plays.

This recycling of some of the actors from his former plays, which doesn’t always work, works like a charm here in Lottery Day. Tori, a character from Red Rex, an earlier play in the seven-play arc played by Aurora Adachi-Winter, and the teacher Ricky, a character from Exit Strategy played by Pat Whalen, make appearances; and they are fantastic. We loved Whalen’s Carol Burnett-wit and mannerisms.

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Director Lili-Anne Brown and the excellent cast brilliantly represent the affliction that Holter wants to portray in the ethnic arrogation of a gentrifying neighborhood, where friends are pitted against one another to find hidden treasure buried in Mallory’s backyard.

The phenomenal Sydney Charles, who plays the fast-talking Zora, is always a must-see performer. She brings to life each character she plays and in Lottery Day, this cane-walking sister is one of the funniest people at the party.

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James Vincent Meredith as Avery in Lottery Day at the Goodman Theatre through April 28.

Steppenwolf ensemble member James Vincent Meredith plays everyone’s favorite uncle (mind you, no one is blood-related) Avery, Mallory’s deceased husband’s best friend and the best cook and handyman in the neighborhood. Avery and Mallory have a love jones for each other; however, Avery has a secret lover at the cookout that shocks everyone.

The acting by all, including McKenzie Chinn, Tommy Rivera-Vega, Tony Santiago, and the hilarious Robert Cornelius, is superb. There are times when multiple characters are speaking at once; however, they intermingle well, producing an excellent night of theater.

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