With Lottery Day, Chicago playwright Ike Holter has created an expansive and combustible final chapter for a series of plays that have earned critical and popular acclaim for the prolific writer over the last three years. It began with Exit Strategy, about the final days of a Chicago public school slated for closure. Produced by Jackalope Theatre Company in 2014, the play was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “at once poetic, political, sad, funny, timely, complex and compassionate,” and has gone on to successful productions across the country. His next two plays– Prowess, a mash-up of superhero comics and noir thrillers, and Sender, a twisted ghost story about growing up—expanded the cast of characters and the texture and landscape of the fictional Chicago neighborhood Holter created in Exit Strategy. These two plays, both produced in 2016, were followed by The Wolf at the End of the Block—a masterfully crafted thriller produced earlier this year by Teatro Vista that examines the distrustful and damaging relationship between police and the citizens they’re charged to protect. In Lottery Day, the characters’ complex histories come to a head.
The play is set in the backyard of a tough Chicago matriarch named Mallory, who lost her family in a terrible act of violence years ago. Since then, she has created a new family by opening the doors of her rambling home to a wild array of lonely neighbors, hardcore activists and starving artists. These friends have all played a role—sometimes central, sometimes peripheral— in Holter’s other plays. For the New Stages developmental production, actors who originated those characters in past productions return to reprise their roles, resulting in a joyful experience for Holter. “When I started writing Lottery Day, I thought it would be exciting to reunite these people who have shared these nerdy inside secrets,” explains Holter. “When we did Exit Strategy in 2014, the actor Pat Whalen played Ricky and he was really good at hanging onto small details not just about his character, but about the rest of the play. In all of these productions, the actors retained all the small details about the neighborhood, the kind of inside secrets about the world that helped me say, ‘OK, this connects to this and this.’ So beyond just playing their character, they know that they’re playing part of the neighborhood, toward a bigger idea. It’s like…we’ve all done this once, let’s figure out this sequel, you know?”
In addition to being inspired by his previous collaborators, Holter’s love of music also played an important role in the play’s creation, with songs appearing throughout the work. “I’m a really big music fan,” Holter notes. “Each time I work on a play, I have about 30 songs that I listen to and they totally remind me of specific parts and moments in the play. It’s kind of like an old school movie soundtrack with songs that weren’t even in the movie but still told the story. Lottery Day has a huge soundscape because it gives off an epic vibe with a lot different tones, energies and influences. It’s exciting when you acknowledge that soundscape is a big part of storytelling