Video: First look at 'The Great Leap,' and 5 things we learned at Perspectives

Your first look at ‘The Great Leap.’ Video by David Lenk for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Playwright Lauren Yee intends to take audiences right down to the buzzer when her new play opens Friday  

By John Moore
Senior Arts Journalist

Denver audiences have not yet seen Lauren Yee’s new basketball play The Great Leap, opening Friday in the Ricketson Theatre. But while no literal hoops action goes down on the stage, actor Linden Tailor says the story plays out much like any good, close basketball game: You don’t know how it’s going to come out till the very end.

“The play builds in intensity the same way a game does in those final two minutes,” said Tailor, who plays a short but scrappy Chinese-American player named Manford in Yee’s tale of a college basketball team that travels to Beijing for a “friendship” game and lands right in the middle of the Cultural Revolution. “That’s the feeling I hope the audience gets when they see the play.”

The occasion was Perspectives, the DCPA Theatre Company’s ongoing series of community conversations held just before every first preview performance. Literary Manager Douglas Langworthy was joined by Yee, Tailor, actor Keiko Green, Dramaturg Kristin Leahey of the Seattle Repertory Theatre and Scenic Designer Wilson Chin.

Yee takes great pains to make her play mirror the game she honors in several ways. The sound of dribbles make for heightened sound effects, for example. Intermission is like halftime. There is a big game at the end of the play, but the audiences only hear about it in a fugue of language. Actors quickly toss words back and forth like the passing of a basketball. “There are times when all four of us are sharing a sentence,” Green said. The effect is similar to the teamwork you see in a game. “You can feel it when the players are comfortable and supportive of each other,” she said. “And that’s the feeling we hope to convey as actors.”

Here are five things we learned about The Great Leap at Perspectives. Next up: A conversation with the creative team from Native Gardens at 6 p.m. Friday, April 6, in the Jones Theatre:

The Great Leap Perspectives. Photo by John Moore

From left: Douglas Langworthy, Keiko Green, Linden Tailor, Lauren Yee, Kristin Leahey, Wilson Chin and Eric Ting. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. Full photo gallery below.

NUMBER 1“Let’s go co.” In its nearly 400 productions, the DCPA Theatre Company has only participated in two previous “co-productions” — world-premiere plays created in full partnership with another company. And they both took place in 2000: The Laramie Project, with Moisés Kaufman’s Tectonic Theatre Project in New York, and the epic 10-play cycle Tantalus with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Until now. This season, the DCPA is launching two “co-pros” simultaneously: The Great Leap with the Seattle Repertory Theatre (opening there March 28) and American Mariachi with the Old Globe in San Diego (opening there on March 29). One of the primary reasons most theatres enter co-productions is the opportunity to share expenses. But Leahey said this arrangement has far more to do with overlapping interests. “It was an affinity for the play, for the playwright and the opportunity to collaborate with our friends the Denver Center,” she said. “It was not for financial reasons.”

NUMBER 2The evolution will not be televised. Yee’s play was first introduced to Denver Center audiences last February as a featured reading at the 2017 Colorado New Play Summit. Since then, “I think the play has changed an incredible amount,” said Yee — and not just the title, which has morphed from the original Manford at Half Court to Manford at the Line Or The Great Leap to, finally, the shortened The Great Leap. “As a writer, I tend to know the major pieces of the puzzle early on, like the characters and the setting,” Yee said. “For me the rewriting process — like being at the Summit for two weeks and seeing how it works in front of audiences — is figuring out better ways of connecting those pieces together.”

NUMBER 3Language barrier. Half of The Great Leap takes place in San Francisco, and half takes place in China. Yee was asked by a Perspectives audience member if the play will ever be staged in China, and she said that had not yet even occurred to her. “I don’t think it would work there,” she said. “My references are so American, both in terms of language and pop-culture references, that I don’t know how it would read to a Chinese audience. In America, we have a very specific take on what our history is, and I’m sure that China has a very specific take on what world history is. I think if you were to see my play in China, you would be like, “No. You are completely wrong about our history. I see it entirely differently.’ ”

NUMBER 4The Great Leap Linden Tailor Nuggets. Photo by Hope GrandonThe Hornets rest. The Great Leap cast made a field trip on Monday to the Denver Nuggets’ game against the Charlotte Hornets, where they were welcomed by a message on the giant scoreboard. They also met Rocky, one of the most popular mascots in all of sports. And in return, the cast sent the Nuggets their good vibes, which surely played a part in the Nuggets’ 121-104 rout. “It’s fun to go to a game and have it be research,” Tailor joked. (Photo: Rocky and Linden Tailor. Photo by Hope Grandon.)

NUMBER 5Ordinary people. Yee’s next play is called Cambodian Rock Band, and it bears one major similarity to The Great Leap, she said: Ordinary people intersecting with extraordinary places in history. “In Cambodia during the 1960s and ’70s, there was a whole psychedelic surf-rock scene that you never heard about because the communists took over Cambodia in 1975, after the Vietnam War ended,” Yee said, “and the first thing they did was kill all the artists. In four years, 90 percent of their musicians died, and the only ones who survived are those who hid their identities. My play is the story of a Cambodian-American woman and her father, who is a Khmer Rouge survivor. In the course of the play, the daughter learns that her father was in this rock band. I think that’s something we can all relate to: Not really fully knowing who your parents are.” It opens March 3 at the South Coast Repertory in Orange County, Calif.

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Photo gallery: The making of The Great Leap:

The making of 'The Great Leap'
Photos from the making of ‘The Great Leap,’ opening Friday and performing through March 11 in the Ricketson Theatre. To see more photos, click on the image above to be taken to our full gallery. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. Pictured above is Director Eric Ting (pictured). 

The Great Leap: Ticket information
GreatLeap_show_thumbnail_160x160When an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for an exhibition game in 1989, the drama on the court goes deeper than the strain between their countries. For two men with a past and one teen with a future, it’s a chance to stake their moment in history and claim personal victories off the scoreboard. American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport, while Chinese coach Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly changing country. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action on the court.

  • Presented by the DCPA Theatre Company
  • Performances Through March 11
  • Ricketson Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex
  • Tickets start at $30
  • Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • Sales to groups of 10 or more click here

Read more: Our complete interview with Lauren Yee

Selected previous coverage of The Great Leap:
For The Great Leap playwright Lauren Yee, family is a generation map
Five pieces of fun hoops history to know, like: What’s a pick and roll?
Five things we learned at first rehearsal, with photos
Summit Spotlight: Lauren Yee lays it all on the free-throw line
Vast and visceral: Theatre Company season will include The Great Leap

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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