Review by Brooks Whitlock
Chicago-based playwright Ike Holter is assuredly keyed into, like so much else in his captivating bibliography, the moods that defined the previous calendar year. Exhibit A: his audio play I Hate It Here: Stories From the End of the Old World and its production team based out of Washington DC’s Studio Theatre, which commissioned the play. They take for granted the high-strung reactions to 2020 to which we have returned (and continue to drum up post-exodus), responding with a self-described “album” made up of “tracks” in tune with the chaotic spirit of last year. Clocking in at just over 80 minutes, I Hate It Here is a sequence of monologues, scenes, and songs focusing on the various instances in which we’ve brushed against looming obstacles, come face-to-face with injustices ranging from obvious to sinister, and addressed the values of our mental sanity and peace.
It’s impossible to be nostalgic for 2020. At least, it should be. When I look back on my memories from last year, they’re all—if not maddening by nature—offset by a quality of disappointment attributed to circumstances intimate and collective, emotional and environmental. I Hate It Here elevates this veneer of depression and woe with a more active, aggressive voice: as the ensemble sings early on, anyone who wasn’t driven to hate 2020 on this planet deserves to choke. The government powers that be, corrupt police institutions, and Mother Earth herself stripped humans of so much in 2020. What excuse is there to not?
Sans the privilege of visual cues, I Hate It Here—like Holter’s other plays—underlines his magnificently deft ability to wring poetry out of unglamorously hesitant and ostensibly confident modern American speech patterns. Profound glances with assonance and rhyme land beside beats of pathos-wrought repetition and bursts of speedy, sharp polemic. Although the structure of the playis distinctly subdivided (each story is clearly listed on the Studio Theatre website), its flow—aided immensely by Mikhail Fiksel’s sprawling, engaging sound design—is imply undeniable. The contrast between vignettes may be stark at times, but that’s got nothing on how a listener might understand the progressions of each new story. Notably, the premise of each vignette is never given away too soon—something that a lesser scribe may see as detrimental to clarity within the audio play medium but is turned into one of Holter’s greatest, most uncompromising assets.
I Hate It Here enlists a roster of Chicago-based Holterverse and DC talent to add fuel to its pulsating pace. Those familiar with Holter’s work will love hearing the talents of actors like Sydney Charles—employing impressive vocal range to command the play’s linguistics with determination and wit—and Tony Santiago—here, his characters powerfully convey a grounded moralism that solidifies the flesh and blood of the play’s voices. As this is a series of vignettes, you’ll undoubtedly connect with certain ones over others (my favorites were on the B-side). Stories include a satire of labor in the fast food industry circa-COVID, a teacher going up against an inherently racist chain of command at her school, a witty depiction of the spectrum of attitudes of those who are self-proclaimed activists, and a particularly wonderful scene among three friends having a small celebration. Altogether, they add up to a smart and guttural collage of unsteadiness, a document of rage and resilience that feels frequently cathartic and never opportunistic.
I Hate It Here, free on the Studio Theatre website, is online for three more weeks. It’s completely worthy of your time and attention, especially as the tendrils of 2020 threaten to seep into the DNA of 2021. I Hate It Here doesn’t try to stop that from happening. In many ways, it’s too late. But it screams out in protest—perhaps that’ll slow the inevitable down some.
Listen to I Hate It Here: Stories From the End of the Old World until March 7 for free on the Studio Theatre website.
Playwright Holter is a DePaul Theatre School graduate and resident playwright at Victory Gardens Theater. His plays often deal with Chicago political issues, such as these four plays reviewed on Third Coast Review: Rightlynd, Lottery Day, Red Rex and The Wolf at the End of the Block.
Guest author Brooks Whitlock is an actor, writer and avid reader from suburban Chicago. He is a recent graduate of Northwestern University and writes about all things movies and TV on netflixlife.com.