Chicago Theater Review: I AM GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD (Chicago Dramatists)

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by Samantha Nelson on June 12, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


In his 2011 Northwestern commencement address, Stephen Colbert told alumni that they may have been told to follow their dreams, but that sometimes dreams can change, especially if your first dream is a stupid one.

That’s not advice that protagonist John Chapman is prepared to accept in I am Going to Change the World, a deeply stirring drama at Chicago Dramatists. Andrew Hinderaker’s  play opens with Chapman (Nicholas Harazin) presenting his valedictorian speech to grads of the University of Chicago in 1995. He shares his own dream, written on a piece of paper at age 9, an ambitious plan to be married, have two kids and lead Goldman Sachs by the age of 35, and mocks any classmates who may settle for less.

Samantha Nelson's Chicago Review of I Am Going To Change The World at Chicago DramatistsThings don’t go according to plan for John. On his 35th birthday he’s living in his parents’ basement, working for minimum wage and being treated for depression. Unable to cope, he psychologically slips back to happier times, believing it’s just the day after graduation with the whole world ahead of him. A man trapped in a past year could easily be used as cheap comedy, but here it’s the basis for a moving play that explores the heavy weight of expectations, the trauma of mental illness, and the simple power of friendship.

Samantha Nelson's Chicago Review of I Am Going To Change The World at Chicago DramatistsIt’s heavy stuff, and the show, under Jonathan Berry’s direction, is prone to melodrama at times. The sounds that mark scene breaks vary in tone depending on whether John is making progress or slipping away (design by Christopher Kriz). There’s also an unnecessary scene where John’s psychiatrist (Judy Blue) reveals why she’s been helping him pro bono, when an earlier implication would have been enough. But overall the show gets the balance right, with some excellent comic relief from John’s nerdy best friend Troy (Ed Flynn) helping to cut through the regular doses of emotional anguish.

Samantha Nelson's Chicago Review of I Am Going To Change The World at Chicago DramatistsMuch of the show’s power comes from its perfect cast. Harazin can shift from youthful exuberance to frustrated rage in a flash. Those swings are well reflected in the expressions of his parents, Marla (Meg Thalken) and Frank (Norm Woodel), who manage to feel both like individuals and also embody parental archetypes that connect with audience members’ own memories. Thalken’s nervous energy is a perfect contrast to Woodel’s terseness, which only breaks long enough to encourage John to chase those dreams that everyone else around him has long since deemed madness. Troy holds everything together, a fact only seen in the second act where he also falls in despair and the show’s emotional level becomes almost unbearable. The payoff is worth it though, leading to a late scene that explains how he and John became friends, a scene that provides the most beautifully sincere moment in an already honest show.

Colbert went on to tell students that if they don’t achieve the dream they had at graduation, that doesn’t make them a loser. That’s another hard truth for John, and many of us, to accept. Once we can, we realize that we all change the world of those closest to us with our presence, and that sometimes making someone else’s life a little better is reason enough to be proud.

photos by Jeff Pines

I am Going to Change the World
Chicago Dramatists in Chicago
Scheduled to close on July 1, 2012
for tickets, visit

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

J. Scott Fitz-Rockford August 8, 2012 at 6:28 am

Anyone who had reservations with this play might find my essay interesting:


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