By next spring, writer Ike Holter will have completed an impressive act of world building: seven interconnected plays, premiered over five years, all set in the same fictional Chicago neighborhood known as Rightlynd. Rightlynd is also the title of the cycle’s fifth entry, which chronologically comes first. Premiering this fall, the play jumps back in time to introduce an unseen force mentioned — and not very kindly — in the previous works: the fictitious 51st Ward alderman Nina Esposito.
“If someone were crazy-slash-cool enough to do all seven of these in a row, you would start here with the antagonist,” Holter says by phone from New York, where he’s working on his first TV gig, writing for an as-yet-untitled FX series about Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda. “Rightlynd has a kind of — I don’t want to say Phantom Menace energy to it, because that has a bad connotation. All of these shows are about people who are thrust into situations where they have power, and then we see how power changes these people.”
The Minneapolis native, who arrived in Chicago 15 years ago to study theater at DePaul, hopes the Rightlynd plays provide a more nuanced view of a city that’s become politicians’ shorthand: “They say, ‘The crime in Chicago …’ and the audience jeers. Centering this stuff here shows these people have complex lives.”
At 33, Holter — whose recent accolades include Yale’s $165,000 Windham-Campbell Prize — doesn’t foresee himself returning to Rightlynd after the series’s final installment, Lottery Day, opens at Goodman Theatre in March. “When we get to Lottery Day, you’ll see there’s a big sense of finality to it. There’s a specific conversation being had in these plays, and once something’s been said, I don’t want to say it again.”