Playwright Johnna Adams (Gideon’s Knot) makes a strong case for unfettered imagination in the quirky, intense World Builders, a world premiere rom-com at the 25th anniversary of the Contemporary American Theater Festival.
Max (Chris Thorn) and Whitney (Brenna Palughi) meet un-cute—in the psych wing at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He’s tense and inward; she’s a major sharer and all kinetic arm gestures and florid bursts of chatter. Unlikely comrades at first glance, they are bound together by shared psychosis—bipolar disorder—and being participants in a drug trial.
Both have landed in the drug trial at the urging of parents and doctors who wish for them to be “normal.” However, it turns out there is much more at stake than the calming of unquiet minds. Initially prickly and defensive, “We have to talk to the doctors and nurses—we don’t have to talk to each other,” Max gives in to Whitney’s manic charms and they begin to connect, as only supremely self-involved schizos can.
Whitney confides first about her fantasy world that she vastly prefers to real life, an elaborate, multi-planet “futuristic dystopia” filled with alien-human hybrids that sprout wings and mermaid tails and indulge in all sorts of interplanetary skirmishes—sort of “World of Warcraft” only inside a young woman’s brain.
Her world is indeed magnificent and rich—and as master of this world she’s outfitted herself with a rewind button so she can perform do-overs whenever she pleases. No wonder she’d rather be there than here—powerless and mentally ill, besieged by well-meaning medical personnel and family.
CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN THEATER FESTIVAL
July 19 – August 2
90 minutes, no intermission
Details and Tickets
Both of their worlds are obsessive, but where Whitney’s is liberating and expansive, Max’s is confining and horrific. They call the experimental drug “world killers,” and as their attachment grows, so does their debate as to whether or not squelching the imagination is the right thing to do.
World Builders is outwardly a love story, and Thorn’s tortured intensity and Palughi’s combustive, scary energy make them an oddly endearing psych ward Romeo and Juliet.
But Adams’ play also deals compellingly with the idea that the divine, creative spark and craziness are much closer together than we’d like to admit. The play ultimately provides an interesting argument on the rights of the mentally ill—do they have the right to let their disorder go untreated, undrugged, so long as they can function reasonably well in society and are no harm to themselves and others? Should we kill creativity in the name of so-called normalcy?
World Builders by Johnna Adams . Directed by Nicole A. Watson . Featuring Chris Thorn and Brenna Palughi .Set Designer Robert Klingelhoefer . Costume Designer Stephanie Shaw . Lighting Designer Tony Galaska . Sound Design & Original Music Arshan Gailus . Technical Director Brian Shaughnessy , Stage Manager Laura Smith . Produced by Contemporary American Theater Festival . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.