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"The World of Extreme Happiness", Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center Stage I
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"The World of Extreme Happiness", Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center Stage I

- Backstage with the Playwrights

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Mon - Thurs 10AM - 11PM
Fri - Sat 10AM - 11:30PM
Sun 12PM - 9PM

Manhattan Theatre Club
and the Goodman Theatre

The World of Extreme Happiness

By Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig
Directed by Eric Ting

Manhattan Theatre Club
NY City Center Stage I
West 55th Street, Btw. 6th and 7th Avenues

Artistic Director, Lynne Meadow
Executive Producer, Barry Grove

Goodman Artistic Director, Robert Falls
Goodman Executive Director, Roche Schulfer

Francis Jue, Telly Leung, Jennifer Lim
Jo Mei, James Saito, Sue Jin Song

Scenic Design: Mimi Lien
Costume Design: Jenny Mannis
Lighting Design: Tyler Micoleau
Sound Design: Mikhail Fiksel
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Production Stage Manager: Winnie Y. Lok
Casting: Nancy Piccione, Adam Belcuore
& Kelly Gillespie
General Manager: Florie Seery
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Director of Artistic Operations: Amy Gilkes Loe
Director of Marketing: Debra Waxman-Pilla
Director of Development: Lynne Randall
Production Manager: Joshua Helman
Artistic Line Producer: Barclay Stiff
General Manager, The World of Extreme Happiness :
Lindsey Sag

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 25, 2015

Inside the Playbill for the Goodman Theatre’s production of The World of Extreme Happiness, by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, is a flyer informing the viewer of the themes of China’s 2012 societal culture, and its historical context. The six themes described are the one-child policy, the Monkey King - ”Journey to the West”, Coal Ming and Health Problems, Shenzhen Factories, Great Hall of the People, and Self-Help Books and Gurus. All of these themes are inherent in this new play, in riveting dramatization. Six actors play 13 roles in an intermission-less play that spans 1992-2012. The main stage is bare, with grey steel backdrop, which opens for various scenes to the sound of electronic prison doors. The concept is brilliant. Xiao Li (Jo Mei), a mother in labor, is shrieking in pain, praying for a boy in 1992, within a poor hut. Her husband, Li Han (James Saito), as well as the midwife, Wang Hua (Sue Jin Song), and soon-to-be mother, use crude, gutter language to communicate, as the infant girl is thrown into a filthy bucket with a lid. The father complains that he “paid for a boy”. When the baby cries, later on, both parents soften and keep the child. In 2011, the nineteen year-old Sunny is forced into a paid (to the parents) marriage with Ran Feng (Telly Leung), son of the midwife.

The shifting scene brings Sunny, a migrant, to an urban factory, where she cleans bathrooms in a uniform, while belittled and beleaguered by Old Lao (Francis Jue). Only through a factory friend, Ming-Ming (Ms. Mei), does Sunny meet Mr. Destiny (Mr. Jue), in a motivational class, where the self-help books are sold. Sunny is determined to rise in financial and power status, and takes risks throughout the play to make her dream come alive. The scenes switch often to the executive offices of Sunny’s factory, where the owner, James Lin (Mr. Saito), meets with his retail client, Artemis Chang (Ms. Song), and they decide to compete the workers in a contest for a televised speaking engagement in the Great Hall of the People, which should lead to a promotion and rising status. Sunny, winner of the contest, is at a moment of choice at the microphone, to stay with the script or rebel against the shackles of factory degradation, where workers who fail to rise commit drastic self-violence, to escape psychological and physical abuse. One scene, where Sunny manages to land a supervisory factory position, by delivering a gift of “the oldest profession” is pathetic. Additional characters are Sunny’s brother Pete (Mr. Leung), who longs to be a stage interpreter of the renowned Monkey King, but finds his fate in the airless factory, Qing Shu Min (Ms. Mei), a severe government operative, and a minor character, Gao Chen (Mr. Jue).

As mentioned above, the hammering vulgarities are completely unnecessary to the action and dialogue. One word here or there would not be the relentless crudities that unnerve the audience. This is City Center Stage I, Manhattan Theatre Club, not the East Village. Stories can be told effectively, without grating down the experience. Ms. Cowhig’s play persuasively spotlights China’s economic culture, the plight of rural migrants into urban factories, where international corporations exploit cheap labor and create abhorrent working conditions. All five actors perform with exemplary skill, with four morphing from character to character, in momentary costume and scenic shifts. The fifth, Jennifer Lim, in the sole role of Sunny, delivers a masterful interpretation, with a wide range of gesture and moods, some with the tiniest nuance, riveting the eye. Eric Ting has directed each actor to the maximum level of credibility, in the moment, through multiple roles and shifting dynamics. Mimi Lien’s scenery is perfectly suited to the stage, with grey starkness adding a busy wagon of wares, a forlorn factory bathroom changing to a glitzy motivational event. Jenny Mannis’ differentiated costumes work for scenic momentum, and sound and lighting are crisp and warm.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at