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A dream shatters in ‘I Am Going to Change the World’

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◆ Through July 1

◆ Chicago Dramatists,
1105 W. Chicago

◆ Tickets, $32

◆ (312) 633-0630;

Updated: July 7, 2012 8:17AM

Andrew Hinderaker’s play, “I Am Going to Change The World,” now in a deeply moving world premiere at Chicago Dramatists, may very well turn out to be among the most disturbing, emotionally blistering anthems written about the era of global economic downturn that began in 2008 and has yet to be turned around. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say the play might even take its place as a contemporary equivalent of “Awake and Sing!,” Clifford Odets’ Depression-era classic from the 1930s.

Unquestionably, Hinderaker’s simultaneously quasi-hallucinatory yet wholly realistic drama — impressively directed by Jonathan Berry, a proven master of plays about people pushed to the brink — also harks back to poet Langston Hughes’ rhetorical question: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore, and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over, like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”

For John Chapman (played with impressive subtlety and earthquake upending by the boyish Nicholas Harazin), the young man at the center of the story, all of the above applies.

When we first encounter John he is full of zeal as he proudly delivers the valedictory address to his undergraduate class at the University of Chicago. A working-class kid whose family was devastated when the company his father had worked at for decades was thrown to the wolves by banks, he has vowed to redress that calamity. And he has plotted out a longterm plan that, among other goals, includes climbing to the very top of Goldman Sachs, buying the Sears Tower and installing his dad in a rooftop apartment there.

If the dream is outsized, so is the blowback as things quickly spiral out of control following a post-graduation interview at Goldman that gets him marked as a nutcase. That initial calamitous disappointment sends John into a state of depression and escalating mental illness that will put him in freefall for the next 14 years as he holes up in his parents’ basement, quickly sees his relationship with the woman he planned to marry unravel, loses touch with the real world and catapults his family into further debt and emotional despair.

Hinderaker, whose similarly unsettling play, “Suicide, Incorporated,” became a big hit for The Gift Theatre here, and went on to be staged at New York’s Roundabout Theatre, possesses a chilling feel for the way disappointment, disillusionment and a sense of impotence in the face of a brutal “system” can unhinge people.

You feel it in John’s tense, ever-vigilant, sixty-something parents, played ideally by Meg Thalken and Norm Woodel. You hear about it from John’s unswerving best friend, Troy (the hugely winning Ed Flynn), the bearish, bearded Web designer who is full of heart, and lost in his own way, but who, dressed in Gandalf costumes and Garfield T-shirts, stands by his pal. You learn about it from John’s pro bono psychiatrist, Dr. Jensen (a riveting turn by Judy Blue). And even the differently ranked Goldman employees (played by Gabriel Franken and Robert Koon) betray a certain insecurity along with arrogance.

Collette Pollard’s split screen set ­— suggesting the Chapmans’ modest Gary, Indiana, kitchen and John’s dreary basement room, as well as sleek Chicago offices (by way of Mike Tutaj’s projections) — deftly captures the social and economic divide. It is a split that Hinderaker turns into a psychic split of shattering dimensions.

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