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Is it possible to change one’s destiny? Goodman Theatre’s milestone 90th Anniversary Season begins with an “All-New Fall” of new works, starting with Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s The World of Extreme Happiness—a provocative exploration of a factory girl struggling to gain control over her life amid China’s modern economic transformation. Directed by Eric Ting in a world-premiere co-production with Manhattan Theatre Club, the play was commissioned by South Coast Repertory and developed in workshop productions—first at the Goodman (2012 New Stages), then at London’s National Theatre (2013), where it was hailed as a “hard-hitting and bruisingly funny” (Time Out London) “snappy theatrical insight into contemporary China” (London Evening Standard). The World of Extreme Happiness runs September 13 – October 12, 2014 in the Owen Theatre Tickets ($10 – $40; subject to change) are on sale now at, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn). Following the Goodman run,The World of Extreme Happiness begins previews at Manhattan Theatre Club onFebruary 3, 2015 for a February 24 opening night at New York City Center – Stage I. The Goodman is grateful for the generosity of its New Work Sponsors; a list of supporters appears below.

“Frances is among the most extraordinary writers of her generation—fearless, funny, scathing and provocative—and we are proud to introduce her to Chicago audiences” said Artistic Director Robert Falls. “It’s been wildly exciting to propel The World of Extreme Happiness from its development in New Stages to a full production as a centerpiece of our epic fall of new works.”

Cowhig, who was born in Philadelphia and raised in Northern Virginia, Okinawa, Taipei and Beijing, drew her inspiration for The World of Extreme Happiness from Arthur Miller’s essay Tragedy and the Common Man, as well as several books about China, including Xue Xinran’s Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love; Leslie T. Chang’s Factory Girls; and Liao Yiwu’s The Corpse Walker.

“There aren’t many plays written for Asian/Asian-American actors, and few feature complex female characters. I was interested in writing about the world’s largest internal migration—rural Chinese peasants flooding the cities in search of better opportunities—through the lens of a young, ambitious Chinese woman,” said Cowhig. “Self-help books are the most popular genre among migrant workers in China, yet most of the ideas contained within them are taken from Western pop-psychology. The lives of Chinese factory girls feel so far away, yet our fingers touch the products of their labor every day.”

The World of Extreme Happiness centers on Sunny, who was unwanted from the moment she was born in rural China because she’s not a boy, and who migrates to the city in pursuit of urban success. As naïve as she is ambitious, Sunny views her new job in a grueling factory as a stepping stone to untold opportunities. When fate casts her as a company spokeswoman at a sham PR event, Sunny’s bright outlook starts to unravel in a series of harrowing and darkly comic events, as she begins to question a system enriching itself by destroying its own people. The cast for both the Chicago and New York productions features Jennifer Lim (Chinglish at the Goodman and on Broadway) as Sunny; Ruy Iskandar (Pete/Ran Feng); Francis Jue (Old Lao/Gao Chen/Mr. Destiny); Donald Li (James Lin/Li Han); Jodi Long (Artemis/Wang Ha); and Jo Mei(Ming-Ming/Qing Shu/Xiao Li). The design team includes Mimi Lien (set), Mikhail Fiksel (sound), Jenny Mannis (costumes) and Tyler Micoleau (lighting). Kim Osgoodis the production stage manager. Note: Donald Li replaces Andrew Pang, who was previously announced as James Lin/Li Han.

Since the implementation of economic reforms in the late 1970s following the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, China has undergone a massive urbanization that transformed the country from a primarily rural, agrarian society into a country of rapidly expanding cities. With the influx of foreign capital into the country came a demand for labor – resulting in millions of migrant workers embarking on long treks from the rural west to the cities of China’s southern coast. In spite of demanding hours and low wages at their city jobs (young Chinese migrant workers earn an average of 1,747.87 Chinese Yuan per month, equivalent to $277), workers can make up to three times more than their average income back home. Consequently, some cities like Shenzhen, where more than 85% of the city’s 10 million citizens are immigrants, have grown from small towns to bustling metropolises in less than three decades.

The World of Extreme Happiness kicks off the Goodman’s “All-New Fall,” celebrating nine decades with new inspiration: three months of new American plays, each developed in the Goodman’s new play programs. In the Albert is Noah Haidle’sSmokefall directed by Anne Kauffman, which premiered to significant critical and popular acclaim last season, September 20 – October 26 (opening night is September 29). In addition, three FREE workshop productions and three staged readings appear as part of the annual New Stages Festival in the Owen, October 29 – November 16, with a weekend for industry professionals taking place November 14-16 (titles and artists TBA).

The Goodman is grateful for the generosity of its New Work Sponsors, including The Davee Foundation, Major Supporter of the Expansion of New Stages; Time Warner Foundation, Lead Supporter of New Play Development; The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation and the Pritzker-Pucker Foundation, Major Supporters of New Play Development; The Glasser and Rosenthal Family, the Scenemakers Board and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, Supporters of New Work Development; The Joyce Foundation, Principal Support of Artistic Development and Diversity Initiatives; Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Festival Sponsor. Edelman is the Major Corporate Sponsor for the Owen Theatre Season.


Artist Encounter at Goodman Theatre: Examining Contemporary China on stage
Sunday, September 21 at 5pm |$5 general public, FREE Subscribers, Donors, students

Artist Encounters bring together audiences and Goodman artists in an intimate environment for a behind-the-scenes look at the plays and the playmaking process. Join playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig and director Eric Ting as they discuss the process of bringing The World of Extreme Happiness to life.

Post-Show Discussions at Goodman Theatre
Goodman Theatre | FREE
Stay late for discussions about the play with members of the artistic team everyWednesday evening throughout the run of the show.

Full Release