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A Big Win For Lottery Day  
The world premiere spotlights the harsh realities in one rapidly changing neighborhood
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There is some romantic tension between friends (above) Mallory and James Vincent Meredith (Avery). Cookout guests include (below) Pat Whalen, McKenzie Chinn and Sydney Charles. 
Brett Beiner Photography
In Lottery Day at the Goodman Theatre, J. Nicole Brooks (Mallory) hosts a gathering that includes a twist that could change one person's life forever. 
  SOMETIMES in the face of all your troubles, frustrations and pitfalls the best thing to do is just have a party, a raucous gathering with the people you love and those who share many of the same tough struggles you face day after day.
   In award-winning Chicago playwright Ike Holder’s world premiere of Lottery Day, running at the Goodman Theatre through April 28, Mallory (J. Nicole Brooks) is the hostess of a cookout that blues queen Koko Taylor would call “a Wang Dang Doodle” that could go all night long. It’s a blowout, no-holds-barred, backyard get-together in honor of “those who have been through it,” neighbors who––through good and bad times––remained the solid foundation of the community, but now live with the unceasing uncertainty associated with the rapid gentrification that hovers over their heads like a threatening dark cloud. 
   What once was a desirable, stable environment in the fictional Chicago ward “Rightlynd” has succumbed to a faltering economy that hit some areas much harder than others. The schools are shutting down, cops are ever-present, stores are closing––all while luxury penthouses are going up in the locations where displaced residents had to leave.  
   Undeterred by all of this, Mallory proves she is a woman who does things the way she wants to do them, and on this day she’s determined to celebrate in the face of adversity––and on the anniversary of a significant personal tragedy, an event in which she apparently hasn’t totally recovered. The matriarch of the neighborhood invites those who she calls “my movers and shakers, my givers and takers” to the spirited barbecue that includes a big mystery, one that could make one lucky person the recipient of a big bundle of cash. But the apparent joy that should come with the giveaway after a three-part contest could tear the “family” apart.
   Lottery Day is the final part of Holter’s "Rightlynd Saga," which has gained critical acclaim and includes six of his previous productions over the past few years––Red RexRightlyndExit StrategySenderProwess and The Wolf at the End of the Block. For the saga’s conclusion, the production is in the hands of Jeff Award-winning director Lili-Anne Brown, who is working with a multitalented cast that ignites the explosiveness that is Lottery Day. Brooks is captivating as Mallory, a concerned and caring but high-strung woman who says whatever is on her mind, and she says it loudly enough so everyone is surely to hear it. Perhaps the one who hears most of her vociferous thoughts is James Vincent Meredith (recently seen in Court Theatre’s production of Radio Golf) as her friend and neighbor Avery, who appears to want more from Mallory, but certain things seem to get in the way of romance. 
   The remaining members of the engaging cast are sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic and all the time entertaining. The audience left with memorable moments from each actor––Aurora Adachi-Winter (Tori), Sydney Charles (Zora), McKenzie Chinn (Cassandra), Robert Cornelius (Robinson), Tommy Rivera-Vega (Ezekiel), Tony Santiago (Nunley), Michele Vazquez (Vivien) and Pat Whalen (Ricky). Aside from their excellence, the cast was also central in a unique and interesting move when it was time to take a break. The group never left the stage stage during the 15-minute intermission and, although without the amplification of microphones, continued to interact the same way people would at a real barbeque. The intermission ended, the lights went down, the voices of the cast members were amplified again and the good time continued. 
   Even before the cast hit the stage, a major statement already had been made by set designer Arnel Sancianco, who created a spacious, real-life backyard setting for a cookout that includes a smoker capable of cooking a huge amount of meat, a large picnic table, a card table and a fully stocked liquor cart. Not surprisingly, music was at the forefront throughout the evening’s activities, including an energetic Soul Train line. From start to finish, observers were treated to the songs of entertainers such as Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, Chaka Khan, Minnie Riperton, DeBarge and Dr. Dre. 
   With the realism associated with Lottery Day––from script to the setting––it’s easy for audiences to relate to what’s happening on stage. Ultimately, though, theatergoers have to figure out whether Mallory’s intentions are the best thing for her Rightlynd family of friends and neighbors.
For more information and tickets, go to www.goodmantheatre.org. Students with valid ID can get advance tickets for $10. Groups of 10+ can save by calling 312/443-3820. Email groups@goodmantheatre.org for more information.
Photographs by Liz Lauren