Too often, the first thought that pops into my head upon exiting a production is “why this play?” The question arises not from a lack of merit but one of intent: of all the scripts available, why produce this particular production? What is the company or playwright trying to say? How or does it relate to current events?
With Ike Holter’s Rightlynd, however, no such questions need be asked. The play is one written explicitly for this moment--its every line, plot point, and character are infused with intense sociopolitical meaning, creating a tour de force of much-needed commentary on gentrification, race, and political power. Though the script struggles at the beginning to find its footing, Righlynd showcases Holter’s ability to make heavy subjects both entertaining and impactful, providing further evidence that Holter is one of Chicago’s most talented writers.
As our story’s hero, Nina (Monica Orozco) calls to mind recently elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a people’s candidate who is more interested in serving others than herself; one seemingly exempt from the corruption rampant in politics. Yet as Nina struggles to become alderman of the fictitious 51st ward of Chicago and to maintain her morals while instigating change, her idealism begins to diminish under overwhelming odds. Even with the community on her side, it quickly becomes clear that fighting corruption without stooping to the like may prove impossible.
Despite the sheer number of issues tackled in this 90 minute script, Holter keeps things light by presenting Nina’s story fantastically, using stylized fight sequences and dance numbers to dramatize her plight. And while this is a major reason the show succeeds, there are moments, particularly at the show’s opening, where this approach seems overly didactic and inconsistent. A quick reference to Hamilton, for instance, seems oddly placed in the world of the play, which is not quite a parody but certainly not rooted fully in reality.
As the script establishes its tone, however, the cast and overall production begin to falter. Much of the later numbers feel slightly unfinished, as if the production itself required a bit more time to iron things out. This is most apparent in Nina and her romantic interest Pac’s (Eddie Martinez) dance number, where both characters seem so focused on the choreography that their emotional connection diminishes.
It’s not uncommon, of course, for a world premiere production to have some slight missteps. However, to present such an overall nuanced and engaging critique of a systemic issues is uncommon indeed. It’s Holter’s incredible ability to do this that makes Rightlynd worth seeing.
Review by Emily Schmidt
Rightlynd continues at Victory Gardens Theatre through December 23. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.