“Lotto Fever in the Sucker State” Review – Lovable Sitcom in Spirit of Farm-Aid


Before the official curtain rises you get to sit with the perfectly outfit rural diner that is the set of all the action in “Lotto Fever in the Sucker State”, a world premiere by Leigh Johnson and directed by Jonathan “Rocky” Hagloch.   You’ve been there before, on a road trip or perhaps your hometown downstate—from the blackboard referencing menu items named for WWII heroes, to the checkerboard tablecloths, to the framed portrait of Ronald Reagan.  (Set design: Ryan Emens). 


Something about this very small town setting helps to lower the bar of your expectations and get you on the same wavelength that lets you enjoy a guileless movie like “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  Everything about “Lotto Fever in the Sucker State” has the feel of community theater.  The emphasis is on the word “community”, because this is a feel-good loving and lovable homage to the life of small farmers. 


Yes, there are deficits in acting, script ploys, and more, but these won’t matter.   Right from the start there is enough smart-alecky banter to keep you tittering. 


Characters are quickly drawn.  I’m hard put to imagine Angela Bullard who plays the seen-it-all diner waitress, Noreen, playing any other role in her life as this one fits her to a tee.  That’s even more true of the grandfather of the family in the center of this story, Zachary Smithfield, played by Ed McGuire.  You may get the feeling that some cast members are still trying to remember their lines, but you’ll also walk away knowing that they all did what they had to do.



What they do is make a small town diner and its inhabitants come alive.  Because farms are being foreclosed right and left, the diner is falling on hard times too.  The Smithfield family at the center of the story is coping with the recent loss of the man who was their father, son, and husband. 



Lotto and lotteries are symbolic of the magical thinking that helps many to tune out their dire economic straits.  The almost college-degreed grandson, Calvin Smithfield played very ably by Logan Hulick,  roils at the wholesale denial around him and frets. 



Add a daughter with unexplained powers of ESP, (Mary Smithfield played by Hannah Cooney) a former Denny’s manager who has inherited the diner and hopes to build it to Olympian heights (Steven Rayner played by Justin Wirsbinski), a Brit enamored of how the local savages speak (Malcolm Hodges played by Ned Ricks, a bible thumping mother (Helen Smithfield played by Pam Tierney), a peacemaker grandma (Emma Smithfield played by Nancy Pollock), and two Federal Agents (Neil O’Callaghan and Raj Malhotra) who seem at times to channel Laurel and Hardy while they are in pursuit of their mission.  



Yes, someone does win the big lottery--- but no spoiler here to tell you whom.


Most of us in Chicago can get away without thinking of what is happening to the fabric of life in rural America.  “Lotto Fever in the Sucker State” will bring this into focus and make you laugh at the same time.  Bring a few extra dollars to the performance because you will probably want to make a contribution to the Farm Aid collections being sponsored by Saint Sebastian Players, the show’s producers.



Now through November 23.

St. Bonaventure, 1625 W. Diversey, at Marshfield just west of Ashland, in Chicago. Free parking is available in two lots.


For tickets call 773-404-7922 or visit the Saint Sebastian Players website.




Photos:  John C. Oster


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