Ike Holter’s RIGHTLYND sets into motion the central theme of the tension between political idealism and the realities that come with power in a complicated, often stagnant political machine. The first in Holter’s seven play cycle all focusing on Rightlynd, the fictional 51st ward of Chicago, this world premiere focuses on Nina Esposito. Nina is a resident of Rightlynd, who still mourns the closing of her mother’s corner store, Esposito Express, as the neighborhood faces gentrification. No longer content with the shifting changes in her neighborhood, Nina runs for alderman of the 51st ward with the hopes of protecting her home. But when she wins the office, will Nina be able to turn her idealistic plans into reality, or will she become another cog in the Chicago political machine? In RIGHTLYND, Holter sets up this tension not just in Nina’s trajectory, but seems to set up this theme of power and change for the cycle as a whole.
Lisa Portes’s direction easily navigates the numerous tonal shifts in RIGHTLYND. While the play on the whole is grounded in a kind of gritty realism we have come to associate with Chicago theater, Holter also experiments with a variety of different performance types and the play features numerous original compositions by Charlie Coffeen. The play’s ensemble, referred to in the program as “Denizens” (Jerome Beck, Robert Cornelius, LaKecia Harris, Anish Jethmalani, and Sasha Smith) function as well as a modern-day Greek chorus, punctuating different moments in Nina’s story with music and narration. The ensemble also assume various roles in the neighborhood of Rightlynd, bringing to life Nina’s constituency. As the central character, Monica Orozco easily wins audiences over with Nina’s early hopefulness and determination. Orozco navigates Nina’s transition to steely-eyed politician with force and command. Jethmalani also makes a charming appearance as Benny, a reporter for the fictional DAILY NEWS (and the play’s surrogate to reflect on the shifting role of the media in Chicago society). Eddie Martinez is affecting as ex-con and Rightlynd resident, Pac, who forms a special relationship with Nina. Martinez and Orozco have an easy rapport onstage.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Holter is one of the most prolific playwrights in Chicago right now, and RIGHTLYND feels more complete than some of his other produced plays to date. Holter’s exploration of different styles, and myriad Chicago-specific references, make RIGHTLYND an interesting exercise in narration and provide many moments of humor without losing sight of the darker, imperative theme. Though the play runs just over 90 minutes, however, RIGHTLYND could use some tightening still: some moments in the latter half seem to lack focus, then the play races to a finish.
RIGHTLYND on the whole intrigues, and Nina’s evolution from idealistic civilian to powerful politician is fascinating to watch-particularly as embodied by Orozco. Holter fans should be sure to catch this latest staging in the Rightlynd cycle, in order to see how it all begins.
RIGHTLYND plays through December 30 at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue. Tickets are $27-$55. VictoryGardens.org or 773.871.3000
Photo by Liz Lauren
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com