Build-up can lead to tremendous joy or vast disappointment; it’s why we still talk about The Sopranos finale, why we so often despairingly compare expectations and realizations. But Ike Holter’s masterful conclusion to his seven-play “Rightlynd Saga” not only lives up to but surpasses the hype surrounding it. Politically charged and poetically written, Holter’s two hour finale captivates at every turn, establishing itself firmly as Chicago’s must-see production of the season.
Set in the fictitious 51st ward on Chicago’s west side, the play begins as well-loved neighborhood staple Mallory prepares to host her hodgepodge group of family and friends--those accumulated from years of living in the same neighborhood--for a blowout bash. As filled with booze, pot, politics, singing, and dancing as act one is, a sense of foreboding pervades the celebration. The characters’ recently “renovated” neighborhood has already caused significant changes to the place most of them have called home since birth, and the tension between true Rightlynd natives and newcomers adds additional pressure to Mallory’s unhinged plans for the evening’s entertainment.
In “eat the fish, bitch” fashion, characters ultimately hit their breaking points, turning, in some cases, on those closest to them. But as many endings as the play’s second act brings, it also ushers in hope for the future of Rightlynd’s community members--a sense that perhaps these forced changes will instigate new beginnings. This, more than anything, is a testament to Holter’s talent: his writing is both funny and layered, political and emotional, heartbreaking and inspiring.
Under the flawless direction of Lili-Anne Brown, the cast makes Holter’s words their own. J. Nicole Brooks’ Mallory is a force to be reckoned with; she is simultaneously captivating, ferocious, and vulnerable. James Vincent Meredith’s Avery may be softer spoken, but his emotional depth is felt in every scene, and Aurora Adachi-Winter’s Tori and Tommy Rivera-Vega’s Ezekiel stand out as comedic counterpoints. This talented ensemble is surrounded by what might just be my favorite Goodman set ever. Arnel Sancianco’s design is breathtaking and impressively detailed, right down to the smoke coming out of the grill.
Ike Holter’s triumphant end to his seven-play series is a barbecue you won’t want to miss. In fact, as you connect more with the characters, some of whom have been seen in other productions in the series, you’ll feel honored just to have been invited into such a vibrant, insightful world. (Emily Schmidt)
Highly Recommended ★★★★
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The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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