In our modern, everyday life we constantly see forms of media telling us all to follow our dreams and reach for the stars. And in most of those forms of media, following one’s dreams leads to the those dreams happening or at least happiness along the way. “The World of Extreme Happiness” by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club tells a different sort of story.
The play tells the story of Sunny Lin, a peasant girl born in communist China, trying to make her way in the city to provide for her family and find happiness. Sunny encounters cynical managers, manipulative bosses, and enthusiastic friends in her search to be the best that she can.
The show does a fairly good job of balancing the fun comedic moments of the show with the more depressing and hard hitting, almost depressing dramatic beats, which comes of the fine and light-handed direction by Eric Ting. The tension and storytelling beats flow smoothly and makes the 95 minute show fly by in a greatly compelling way. The comedic moments soften the lows in such a way that doesn’t completely distract the audience from the low points, but makes the darker moments even darker by contrast, and vice versa.
The cast is steadily led by Jennifer Lim, who plays the main character, Sunny. Lim passes through a range of emotions and situations in such a way that her arch from shy wallflower to an unexpected revolutionary to her heartbreaking last scene seems so natural and easy, even though it certainly isn’t. The rest of the cast do a wonderful job playing two or three characters in vastly different ways that sometimes it would be hard to tell that a character was played by the same actress. In particular Frances Jue and Jo Mei each played the most characters and each of those characters were wonderfully different and interesting.
All of the production elements came together in a minimal and cohesive way that gave enough detail about the story to let the audience know what the setting was and yet still gave the audience enough to imagine on their own. The scenic design by Mimi Lien was appropriately stark and cold with just enough personality peeking through. The costumes by Jenny Mannis were distinctive for each character, but not too out of the range of reality. The lighting design by Tyler Micholeau and the sound design by Mikhail Fiksel was appropriately subtle and still enhanced each setting.
“The World of Extreme Happiness” is a great play that makes the audience think about what the cost for following dreams in a place where that is not the norm really means. The play will be running at New York City Center until March 29th. See it soon!
Review By: Chrissy Cody
Photos By: Alastair Muir