Going into Open Window Theatre’s production of The World Over, I had no idea what to expect. The blurb on Open Window’s website was kind of vague and pretty bold, promising to “masterfully speak to the original beauty and goodness of the human person, while showing just how far we’ve fallen.” Kind of a lofty goal if you ask me... In comparison to that description, I think any play would fall short. I don’t think I’ve ever critiqued the summary of a play before, but this one was just so dramatic! I read it to a number of friends and asked them to tell me what the play is about based on that, and no one knew. I’m going to put the full blurb here for you:
“THE WORLD OVER by Keith Bunin draws on a vast array of influences--from the Bible, to The Odyssey, to Shakespeare--to masterfully speak to the original beauty and goodness of the human person, while showing just how far we've fallen. At once wholly fantastical and profoundly truthful, Bunin never leaves us without humor or hope in this epic story of a man in search of his home. Adam believes that he is the lost prince of Gildoray, but nobody else in the world believes that Gildoray even exists. Adam will journey the world over, battling monsters, enduring shipwrecks, and daring deeds of heroism, to search for his lost kingdom and save his people.”
Like, ok, once you see the play, I suppose this description does make sense. But the whole point of blurbs like these are to entice people who haven’t already seen the show into seeing it! I don’t know if this is something Open Window wrote themselves or a short summary that already existed for the play, but either way, I don’t think it’s particularly effective. Let me give you a little better idea of what The World Over is actually about.
The World Over, written by Keith Bunin, takes place in a fantasy world akin to “Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones.” The play begins with a geographer (Grant Hooyer) who has an affinity for historic maps explaining one mysterious map showing the country Adamus which existed for just one day. The rest of the show attempts to explain Adamus’ existence by going back in time to tell the story of Adam, a young man who lived alone on an island for many years until discovered by a group of travelers. Upon hearing a popular children’s fairytale about the fictional (or so they believe) country of Gildoray and its lost prince, Adam becomes convinced that he IS that lost prince, despite everyone else’s belief that Gildoray does not exist and never has. Adam faces a long and epic journey as he attempts to find and save Gildoray.
The overall theme of this play was extremely interesting to me. Ultimately, it begs the question of what exactly one gives up over time when singularly focused on a seemingly unachievable goal. I really enjoyed this story, and I was exceedingly impressed by the cast, many of whom played multiple characters and managed to make each one so distinct that it rarely, if ever, became confusing. That is not an easy feat to pull off! Each and every cast member is mad talented, and even if you’re not big on the fantasy genre, the show is worth seeing for their performances alone.
I, however, do enjoy the fantasy genre, and to be honest, I think The World Over might have been better as a 500 page novel than a two-ish hour play. Like I said, I did genuinely enjoy the story, but I couldn’t help but feel that it sometimes moved a little too quickly. For example, at one point during the first act Adam attempts to win the hand of princess Isobel (Erika Kuhn) by besting “a riddle no man can solve, a task no man can perform, and a vow no man can take” that 51 men before him have failed at. Adam completes it in like three minutes. The script does an ok job at expressing some of Adam’s inner struggles, but given just how much action occurs over the course of the play, there really isn’t time to for us to actually see those struggles play out. I’m a fan of slow, detailed progress that leads to an inevitable ending, but there was nothing slow or inevitable about The World Over. Of course Adam is the hero and he’s going to be successful in winning the princess, slaying the monsters, and building an army. The audience knows this. But we deserve to see the messy middle, where heroes struggle, suffer, and doubt their abilities. That’s what makes heroes relatable. Unfortunately, audiences of The World Over don’t get much of this from the script.
On the other hand, what we do get is constant entertainment. Obviously I have my qualms with the play’s writing, but I can’t deny that I was never bored for a moment. This play covers A LOT of ground, and the cast and crew do a phenomenal job of moving from one action scene to the next seamlessly. Before this show, Open Window had been on a hiatus since 2016, and, since I’ve only lived in the Twin Cities since 2017, this is the first show I’ve seen from them. But if The World Over is a good representation of the quality of their productions, I’m 100% in to see every other show they produce. Everything from the set to the effects (my favorite was the way they used actors and swaths of fabric to create a stormy, inflammatory ocean) were perfect, indicating to the audience exactly where our heroes were at any given point in the show. Adam visits a whole slew of countries, from tropical jungles to frigid tundras, and the set, costumes, and acting make it shockingly easy to follow along.
If you are a fan of daring adventures, fantasy worlds, ridiculously talented actors, and thematic questions that keep you thinking long after the curtain closes, Open Window Theatre’s comeback production of The World Over is a must see.
The World Over is playing at Open Window Theatre in their brand new location in Inver Grove Heights through March 15.