BWW Review: Seattle Rep's World Premiere of THE GREAT LEAP Shoots and Scores
If you're familiar with Lauren Yee, possibly from her previous premiere here in Seattle of "The King of the Yees" last year, you know of her gift for storytelling and crisp dialog. So, when another Yee World Premiere, "The Great Leap", was announced at the Seattle Rep I was excited. But, oh no! This one's about basketball and anyone that knows me knows that I'm illiterate to all things sportsball. So, I got my sportsball translator to come with me and thankfully didn't need to rely on her too much. She explained what a pick and roll was and what the hell a point guard did but other than that I was good as I was simply immersed in a lovely story of three men at different points in their life and from very different backgrounds each trying to find their own truth during a tumultuous time.
The show does suicides (another sportsball term I learned) back and forth between two time periods. In 1971 we see a young Chinese party member in Beijing, Wen Chang (Joseph Steven Yang), acting as translator for a visiting crass American basketball coach, Saul (Bob Ari), who's been brought over to teach the finer points of the American way of playing the game to the Beijing team. When Saul returns home he brags that he brought basketball to China (even though it's been there for quite some time) and makes the public claim that no Chinese team will ever beat an American one. Cut to 1989 and Saul is a struggling coach at the University of San Francisco but has been invited to bring his team to China for an exhibition game against the Beijing University team Wen Chang now coaches. Enter brash high school senior Manford (Linden Tailor), a Chinese American determined to get on the San Francisco team and go to Beijing. But each of these men have much more than just playing a basketball game in mind.
Director Eric Ting does a fantastic job of switching between the time periods and locales and keeping the action moving with never a wasted moment. Yes, it's literally writ large on the stage but the tone shifts are palpable as well with each moment building beautifully on the last until they all come to a head in an incredibly fast paced game of words. And kudos to Christopher Kuhl for his lighting and Shawn Duan for his projections which aid in that tension build immensely.
Ari has grabbed hold of one of the foulest mouthed, insensitive characters ever written and run with him with seeming glee and it's a joy to behold. Never making him a cartoon or caricature but still larger than life he nails the bluster of a broken man. On perfect counterpoint is Yang as the man towing the party line, very upright and ordered until he can no longer remain that way and even his final break is measured but heartbreaking. Keiko Green throws in some gorgeous and hilarious moments as Manford's no nonsense cousin Connie. But it's Tailor who you can't keep your eyes off with his mile-a-minute braggadocio and confidence the size of China. He keeps this young man extremely grounded yet driven with some wonderfully intense final scenes.
A beautiful play with vibrant characters and rich history crackling with fresh dialog, but then that's what we've come to expect from Lauren Yee. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "The Great Leap" at the Seattle Rep a 3-pointer of a YAY. And if you're like me, don't let the sportsballedness of it all scare you off. You'll be fine.