The young man in the prologue to Andrew Hinderaker’s new play fully believes the sentiment in its title. Standing before us in a cap and gown, addressing his University of Chicago class as its valedictorian, John Chapman (Nicholas Harazin) explains the plan he laid out for himself at age nine, on a sheet of paper he still carries in his wallet. It involved graduating high school and college at the top of his class, getting a job at Goldman Sachs and culminated at age 35: “Take over Goldman Sachs, buy the Sears Tower, and build a home on the top floor.” His interview at Goldman Sachs is the day after graduation.
The way Hinderaker lays out what happens next is such a slow, skillful reveal, I hate to give it away. John wakes up the next day, dashing out the door for his interview, only to discover to his great confusion it isn’t the next day at all—it’s his 35th birthday, and the rest of his list hasn’t been checked off as planned. As explained by the therapist he doesn’t recognize (played by a warm and moving Judy Blue), he’s had what’s called an anniversary reaction, blocking out the last 14 years.
In World, as in his Suicide, Incorporated, Hinderaker takes a seemingly far-fetched premise and finds in it deep veins of compassion and humanity. Director Jonathan Berry and a terrific cast explore the large and small consequences of great expectations. As John, the appealing Harazin smartly balances his character’s unlikable tendencies with his disorientation and hurt while he learns he might have to start with changing himself.