Chicago Theatre Review
Love Without Boundaries
World Builders – First Floor Theatre
In Johnna Adams’ intelligent, intoxicating, 90-minute drama language and imagination are the stars. Directed by Jesse Roth with a great deal of passion and empathy for her characters and their stories, this two-hander is simply exquisite. It’s mesmerizing and it grabs the audience within the first few moments and never releases its grip until long after the final curtain.
Staged in an intimate, in-the-round performance space, in a sparsely furnished lounge of the psychiatric wing, at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital, this arena becomes the physical world for two patients undergoing an experimental treatment for a shared illness. The question resonates throughout: Is this really an illness, in the traditional sense, or is it a voyage into the creative mind of certain special individuals?
Whitney, played with engaging brilliance, intelligence and so much compassion by Carmen Molina, and Max, portrayed with sensitivity and a certain boyish charm by Andrew Cutler, are both suffering from a condition known as schizoid personality disorder. Similar to, and often confused with, schizophrenia, this condition is different. It’s marked by a patient’s lack of emotion and disinterest in other people. They shun contact and communication with everyone around them. Quite simply, they exist and dwell in their own different, unique fantasy worlds, created entirely by each individual patient.
Whitney has built an extensive, very detailed and complicated science fiction universe, consisting of several planets or worlds housing several different civilizations. She concentrates on specific individuals and creatures within her imaginary domain, centering on their adventures and conflicts. Max, on the other hand, has fixated on a world that’s basically a single room, a dark dungeon dominated by a deep pit. Into this hole he daily discovers a different woman who’s being kept prisoner. He never knows exactly what happens to each of these women, but he suspects they’ve been put to death. Upon each return visit he sadly realizes that the previous victim has been replaced by a new prisoner, someone from his real life, and he’s powerless to intervene in their fate.
Johnna Adams’ intriguing play begins with the two individuals retreating to this neutral room in the hospital in order to avoid contact other patients. Neither, it seems, wishes to talk about his imaginary realm with anyone else or become involved with any other world but his own. However, Whitney has found a need to break her silence. Both patients, like all the others experiencing this illness, are being given a series of medication that eventually, over time, will make their fantasies disappear. Whitney’s decided that, because she soon may be unable to visit her imaginary universe, she must share her stories with another person. In doing so, her imaginary worlds will continue to exist, in spite of Whitney not being able to witness them herself. Whitney’s motives are like someone wanting to investigate and set down in writing his family’s genealogy so that others in the future may know and understand his past. Max is very reluctant to learn about anyone else’s world but his own, but eventually Whitney breaks through.
Carmen Molina is superb as Whitney. She’s the catalyst that drives this play toward its conclusion. The sheer amount of detailed dialogue this actress has mastered, not to mention her precise, articulate delivery of all this information, is admirable. However, Ms. Molina goes further and creates the honesty that makes Whitney a real person. You care about her and her future. Because of his reluctance to become a part of Whitney’s plan, Andrew Cutler’s journey takes a little longer. But as we watch this excellent actor subtly strip away his protective shell and give in Whitney’s persuasion, we see a young man evolving and growing into an entirely different individual than we met at the start. There’s a scene toward the end in which both actors shed their clothing, changing from hospital gowns and robes into their civilian clothing. This act of stripping down and dressing again is a metaphor for the mental and emotional trek each has experienced, for what each has removed and left behind.
This is a smart play, a cerebral drama that relishes language and creativity. While opening a discussion about mental health, as well as an argument against the use of drug therapy, it taps into the audience’s own private fantasy worlds. While all of us don’t go to that place and dwell there for hours at a time, every one of us experiences flights of fantasy. Some are exotic and dangerous; others are more conventional and realistic. Often they involve the “What if” aspect of life, the speculation about the road not taken. But in this captivating drama we’re taken on an adventure into brand new territory that will stay with audiences well beyond the final bows.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 5-July 2 by the First Floor Theater at the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by or by going to http://firstfloortheater.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com