Culture Magazine

Review: I Am Going to Change the World (Chicago Dramatists)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: I Am Going to Change the World (Chicago Dramatists)   
I Am Going to
   Change the World

Written by Andrew Hinderaker 
Directed by Jonathan Berry 
Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map)
thru July 1  |  tickets: $20-$32   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
   Read entire review



The list just goes on and on


Review: I Am Going to Change the World (Chicago Dramatists)


Chicago Dramatists presents


I Am Going to Change the World

Review by Clint May 

Intentional or not, there’s something Fitzgerald-esque about the world premiere of Andrew Hinderaker’s I am Going to Change the World in that it too explores the darker side of the American dream. With a 21st century awareness of just how that dream has been upended by the very forces that brought it into being, it’s a parable for the recession that traverses the century line from 1995 to 2009. It’s a (bitter)sweet spot in American history to relive. World explores themes of aspirations, tenacity and the precariousness of the middle class and the truth or untruth of that oft-quoted Fitzgeraldism about there being no second chances in America. It does this through the window of a mind in turmoil following a snap from the pressure of a self-made outline for a successful life written in childhood but now crippling an adulthood.

We enter the life of John Chapman (Nicholas Harzin) as he’s graduating from the University of Chicago in the mid-90’s. Fresh faced and the top of his class, everything seems to be on track for this up-and-comer. Tomorrow morning he’s got an interview with Goldman Sachs to continue his upward mobility from his struggling middle-class family to the top of the Sears Tower. (Here’s where talking about the plot gets tricky, because there’s a twist to this tale that you may not want to know going in, so if you like surprises I advise skipping the next paragraph to avoid spoilers.)

There’s a wrench in the plan for this young man that symbolizes perfectly how a lack of humility can be one’s undoing. It’s a little counterintuitive how his dream was derailed from cocksureness when it’s just that kind of arrogance that created our current recession. Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it—the only bailout for John is his parents. Long-suffering mom Marla (Meg Thalken) and gruff father Frank (Norm Woodel) have again sheltered him like so many prodigal children. They were ousted from their own American dream, and it was in that lowest point that John penned his list of intended life achievements at the tender age of nine. Now we meet him at the moment he was meant to have reached the zenith of his goals and instead find him at their nadir. There’s just one sticking point. Thanks to a sudden fugue state, he has reset Groundhog Day style to the day of his interview 14 years ago, the moment when the dream went awry. This creates a (I’m fairly certain) fictional psychosis called an “Anniversary Occurrence,” wherein an important anniversary triggers a latent time bomb in the mind. For John, his 35th birthday awakens to a life he never considered possible for himself. In a fascinating look at how any of us would be surprised by our lives if we met our older selves, John must explore his own past from the point of view of himself at 22. Like that overused but so often apropos analogy, we see the difference between a frog in a boiling pot jumping out instantly versus a frog feeling the water heat up slowly and boiling alive. Helping him explore his past is his über-nerd best friend and boss Troy (Ed Flynn) and his tender-hearted psychiatrist Dr. Jensen (Judy Blue).

I recently read an article about how setting is more important than characterizations in works of science fiction, because mainstream fiction is about humans while science fiction is about humanity. This isn’t a science fiction work, but it has similar elements in that the central plot hook is a fictional (though realistic) psychosis similar to dissociative amnesia. This makes the setting very important indeed. It’s both an internal and external landscape—the ruined landscape of one man’s dream to change the world, and as such a microcosm of the larger tragedy afflicting an America that appears to be backsliding. Hinderaker’s characters in this context can be forgiven for being a little more one-dimensional stock everypeople than nuanced individuals. Each gets a moment for some exposition in the second act, but it arrives a little late to land in the heart when so much before this is spent in the mind. The emotional monologuing hastily created seems tacked on to give the characters last minute depth. With any production of this type, the critical question is: does it rise above its contrivance to properly explore something meaningful? In this instance, it does more often than not.

As a man who would be the Atlas of the middle class, Harazin plays John adeptly, walking a line between a man in crisis from the tension between the man he wanted to be and the man he turned into. Thalken and Woodel rise above their written flatness to become sympathetic parents trying to support a disappointing son. There’s some strange chemistry between Flynn and Harazin as supposed friends—Harazin seems a little too cool for the mega-dork Flynn. Set design by Collette Pollard is ingeniously nested to maximize the space, while multimedia projections by Mike Tutaj become almost another character themselves and add a necessary element to a production that is already cinematic in pacing and concept.

What can John do with a ‘dream deferred that is (with that oh-so-maligned parlance of the recession era) too big to fail? I Am Going to Change the World is fitfully hopeful that a man—and by extension, America—can adapt if only he can let go of a script that is incommensurable to the modern climate. Relatable on several levels for those of us affected by the caprices of uncaring forces, this is a show that sympathizes with those whose aspirations were derailed. It doesn’t let them off the hook for the responsibility of taking the reins back however. Instead, Hinderaker takes the more difficult path of telling the harsher Darwinian truths that lie at the heart of America’s…”evolution.” This takes guts, and should be rewarded as such.


Rating: ★★★



I Am Going to Change the World continues through July 1st at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $20-$32, and are available online here (check for half-price tickets at More info at  (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Review: I Am Going to Change the World (Chicago Dramatists)

Photos by Jeff Pines


Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog