An audience member's response to THE WORLD OF EXTREME HAPPINESS

As part of our ongoing mission to create compelling and socially relevant theater that sparks conversation and ignites empathy, we reached out to audience members who attended The World of Extreme Happiness and asked to hear their stories. 

Kairu Yao writes:

Dad told me recently that when I first arrived in the United States, I woke up screaming every night. I had spent the previous year in Shanghai with my mom’s grandmother and aunts, while waiting for my immigration status to clear. The adoption would take another year to finalize. My citizenship would take yet another year, granted two days before my fourth birthday. In the meantime I would wake everyone in the night with an unholy noise, first my Shanghai family, and then my totally unnerved new parents in St. Louis, half a world away. This went on for months. It is some miracle we all survived.

In the opening scene of The World of Extreme Happiness, the newborn Sunny Lee is thrown into a slop bucket and left to die, her parents disappointed that she is yet another useless girl instead of the boy that they had prayed for. And yet she refuses to die, launching herself towards a destiny of her own choosing and her own making, and plunging me into an alternate reality so different from the life that was given to me, six months after my birth in July of 1980. It was like that movie Sliding Doors, when Gwyneth Paltrow’s character’s life takes two different paths depending on whether she catches the train or not. All around me in the darkness my fellow theatregoers sat open-mouthed and silent, unsure of what to make of this story threaded with myth and modern China, while I fell into a distant, parallel universe that I somehow always knew existed. Maybe it was this awareness that woke me screaming in the night when I was too young to remember.

To me, The World of Extreme Happiness describes a world that I recognize, where children believe in the Monkey King, where factory workers are tiny cogs in vast machines, where girls are unwanted when only one child is allowed by the government, where ghosts marry humans, where a powerful emperor was buried with an army of thousands upon thousands of terra-cotta warriors to guard him in the afterlife. Where the artist Ai WeiWei was arrested in Chengdu after protesting and was beaten by the police; shortly afterwards he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and required surgery. Raised as I was by Taiwanese parents in America, these stories filtered across oceans and reminded me how whenever I visit China it is like being caught in a tear in the fabric of time, a place both 20 years behind the rest of the world and yet two steps ahead, racing towards a future people can only imagine, but not quite create.

I am not Sunny and Sunny is not me, and yet like her I am reminded, every day, of a sense of destiny. All of us are here on this earth because of decisions made by other people before we were born, and which we had no part of. This is destiny. Everything else is up to us.

Julia Nardin