What can I say about Ike Holter? After meeting him and seeing a staged reading of his play Lottery Day as part of Goodman Theatre’s critics’ boot camp last fall, I am in awe of this man’s charm and overflowing talent. Lottery Day (which will be receiving a full production at the Goodman next spring) is wildly different from Holter’s latest premiere, The Light Fantastic at Jackalope Theatre, but that brilliant Holter writing style shines throughout: a rich authenticity of characters’ voices, a sense of rhythm that’s almost musical, an Annie Baker-esque command of silences (though Holter’s silences are far less frequent), and, best of all, a sense of the absurdly comedic that leads to side-splitting moments of over-the-top humor.
I’ve long had very particular tastes in horror: I like when the baddie is supernatural and can be defeated, and I like the horror to be mostly psychological; gore takes me more to a place of nausea than adrenaline-fueled chills. Ike Holter here presents a masterful take on the psychological/supernatural horror story; he lures the audience in with compelling, realistic human conflict, and just when you begin to feel comfortable, hits you with a jolt of terrifying, supernatural lightning. But, for all the excellently scary moments, the story is, at its heart, about finding a place and people to call home and how a sense of belonging can save us from the most unimaginable of horrors.
The story begins when Grace, a drifter who floats in and out of her hometown in “motherfucking Indiana” and the lives of her loved ones with such frequency that former high school friend and current police officer Harriet describes her as a “boomerang.” One night, an especially bizarre home invasion leads to Grace being fatally shot, but she survives, thanks to a deal she makes with a mysterious bright light. Grateful for her second chance at life, Grace is determined to repay her debt by becoming a good person—but is anything she does enough to satisfy the dark being who’s haunting the town, leaving unsettling weather events and eerily murdered livestock in its wake?
The two women who open the show are the piece’s acting powerhouses; Paloma Nozicka is phenomenal as Grace, capturing the uglier part of her nature, her genuine commitment to a newfound goodness, and her fierce determination to end the cycle of evil once and for all with equal skill; and Brianna Buckley is deeply compelling as police officer Harriet. Buckley performs a comedic relief monologue toward the end of the show in which Harriet calls upon the powers of the Lord and admonishes the dark forces present in Grace’s house with an fierce and unapologetic energy that is gut-bustingly hysterical.
Elegantly-designed magic by Brett Schneider is an essential part of the horror aspects of the story, as are sound design by Steve Labedz and lighting design by Slick Jorgenson, which build the suspenseful atmosphere until it spirals into full-on supernatural terror. Praise must be given as well to the artists who successfully created the effect of objects moving on their own, which is pulled off seamlessly.
Is there any genre Ike Holter can’t write? It’s hard to say, but he has definitely added “excellent horror story” to his impressive resume, and Jackalope Theatre has successfully brought his brilliant vision to life with a strong cast of actors and smart design choices that enhance the story and make The Light Fantastic nothing less than a fantastic night of theatre.
Location: Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N Broadway in Chicago
Regular Run: May 19th – June 16, 2018
Times: Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3:00pm
Additional performances: Monday, June 4 at 8pm; Monday, June 11th at 8pm
Tickets: $5 – $30. On sale now at the Jackalope Theatre website.
All photos by Joel Maisonet.