Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The World of Extreme Happiness ***

The title of Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s new play at Manhattan Theatre Club is ironic to put it mildly. Her unflattering portrait of life in contemporary China is more characterized by ambition than polish. She attempts to tell many stories: the effects of the one-child policy, the great divide between rural and urban China, the horrendous working conditions in factories, the prejudice rural migrants suffer in the cities, the uneasy relationship between communism and capitalism, the limited opportunity for women, the rise of American-style pop psychology as a substitute for religion, and the harsh repression of dissent. It’s a lot for one play to contain. A strong cast of six portrays 13 characters. The wonderful Jennifer Lim (last seen here in “Chinglish”) plays the protagonist Sunny. The other five actors (Francis Jue, Telly Leung, Jo Mei, James Saito and Sue Jin Song) handle two or three roles each, convincingly differentiating their multiple characters. The deliberately bleak set by the talented Mimi Lien (“The Oldest Boy”) is flexible and effective. The costumes by Jenny Mannis are apt. Eric Ting’s direction is fluid. The playwright is not given to subtlety: her favored tool seems to be the sledgehammer. Nevertheless, she is to be commended for taking on such timely, substantive topics and presenting them dramatically. Although the play is flawed, I found it worthwhile. Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission.

1 comment:

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