Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The World of Extreme Happiness

When a play succeeds in telling a political and social history of another people, you leave the theater with a deeper appreciation of the world around you.  Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig has penned a stinging yet touching portrait of China emerging from the old-world countryside into the big urban cities - dirty laundry and all.  

The World of Extreme Happiness is anything but happy in the end.  Jennifer Lim (Sunny) is the country-to-city dreamer of generation X.  She's navigating the tricky class structure and economics of how rapidly China is emerging onto the world stage as an economic powerhouse and provides us a poignant look at her life.  She and her brother (Telly Leung) Pete escape the country and their traditional old-world father (James Saito) to follow their dream of money, power, and the elusive happiness the modern city and the world around them purports to offer.  The tale that unfolds is not unexpected, but nonetheless shocking and sad in its stark reality.  

The play is accompanied by an insert in the playbill which describes the major themes of the play including China's one child policy, The Monkey King, coal mining in China, factories in Shenzhen, The Great Hall of the People, and the self-help craze taking root in the culture.  With a list like this you know the play is going to be smart.  While there are a lot of topics to cover, I believe the fine direction of Eric Ting has focused the play down to an intense and satisfying 95 minutes without intermission.  a wise choice for a very serious story.

In the end, this is a tale of how rapidly a generation has transformed a country and yet how much further they have to go to achieve that elusive dream of happiness and peace.  Theatre is one way to get this message out.  Only time will tell if it helps to change the world.