Preview: Seattle Repertory Theatre Presents The Great Leap

Linden Taylor (Manford) in The Great Leap (Photo by AdamsVisCom. )

Seattle Repertory Theatre presents The Great Leap, a new play from award-winning playwright Lauren Yee. Directed by Eric Ting, it runs March 23-April 22 and is the recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.

China, 1971. The Communist Cultural Revolution is in full swing. San Francisco, 1989. The city by the bay is on the brink of a cultural revolution of its own.

The name of the game is not revolutionary politics, but basketball.

When 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 the two 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. The mood darkens as American coach Saul grapples with his relevance to the sport,

Bob Ari (Saul), Linden Tailor in The Great Leap (Photo by AdamsVisCom)

Bob Ari (Saul), Linden Tailor in The Great Leap (Photo by AdamsVisCom)

Beijing University’s Coach Wen Chang is the quiet, efficient Tim Duncan-esque Party supporter, and Manford is a young, sparky kid from SF’s Chinatown, vertically challenged, yet graced with undeniable baller skill. As the story leaps back and forth in time, Wen Chang and Manford play the game, facing unimaginable cultural barriers and as they circle ever closer to one another, an undeniable truth is revealed: That sometimes there’s more to life than making the shot.

Wen Chang must decide his role in his rapidly-changing country, while Chinese/American player Manford seeks a lost connection. Tensions rise right up to the final buzzer as history collides with the action in the stadium.

Historically, the Great Leap Forward (Chinese: 大跃进; pinyin: Dà Yuèjìn) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was an economic and social campaign by the Communist Party of China (CPC) from 1958 to 1962. Led by Chairman Mao Zedong, its goal was to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into a socialist paradise. However, it is widely considered to have caused the Great Chinese Famine.

As we know, The Great Leap Forward resulted in tens of millions of deaths. A lower-end estimate is 18 million, while a closer look suggests the death toll may have been 55.6 million. Historians cite coercion, terror, and systematic violence as the foundation of the Great Leap Forward, motivating one of the most deadly mass killings of human history.

Go to June 4, 1989:  Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China: Student demonstrators stormed Tiananmen Square calling for democracy. The government responded by declaring martial law and sending troops and tanks. Protesters were brutally massacred. In China, it is now known as the “June Fourth Incident.”

That’s the back story. Setting her play in 1989, Yee wanted to write a work that moved like a basketball game. She took inspiration from her own father, who played basketball in San Francisco and took part of a “friendship” game to China.

Three actors in the four-member cast are making their Seattle Repertory debut in The Great Leap: Bob Ari as Saul, Linden Tailor as Manford, and Joseph Steven Yang as Wen Chang. Keiko Green, as Connie, rounds out the cast.

Advisory: Adult language (profanity and sexual content), sudden loud noises, and strobe lighting effects approx. 31 minutes into Act 2

The Cast
Bob Ari (Saul), Seattle Rep debit
His Broadway credits include: Act OneBells Are RingingLaughter on the 23rd Floor, and The Constant Wife. Broadway actor Off-Broadway credits include Picasso at the Lapin AgileDie Mommie DieJolson & Co., and June Moon; with numerous tours and regional credits as well. His TV/Film credits include “Blindspot,” “Elementary,” “Veep,” “The Good Wife,” “Law & Order,” Two LoversWantedKissing Jessica Stein, and Music of the Heart.

Keiko Green (Connie)
Seattle audiences may recognize Keiko from local performances including The Comparables (Seattle Repertory Theatre); Stupid Fucking BirdDangerous LiaisonsA Christmas CarolBad Apples (ACT Theatre); Bring Down the House Pts. 1 & 2A Midsummer Night’s DreamMuch Ado About NothingOthello, and Love’s Labours Lost(Seattle Shakespeare Company/Wooden O). Her TV/Film credits include “Grimm,” “Z Nation,” and “C.O.G.,” among others. Keiko’s play Nadeshiko was honored with a 2017 Gregory Award for Outstanding New Play and received Honorable Mention on the 2017 Kilroys List.

Linden Tailor (Manford), Seattle Rep Debut
He has a numerous regional credits including The Foreigner (Hangar Theatre), The White Snake (Baltimore Center Stage), Tokyo Fish Story (TheatreWorks Silicon Valley), Eurydice (Round House Theatre), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival), among others, as well as TV/Film credits that include “Shades of Blue,” “The Detour,” “Odd Mom Out,” and “Happyish.”

Joseph Steven Yang (Wen Chang), Seattle Rep Debut
His credits include Aubergine (Playwrights Horizons and Berkley Rep); A Single ShardTibet Through the Red Box (Seattle Children’s Theatre); Take Me Out (Mixed Blood Theatre); Making Tracks (Village Theatre); A Language of Their OwnA Chorus LineYou’re a Good ManCharlie Brown, (Repertory Actors Theatre). His TV/Film credits include “Gilmore Girls,” “Zoey 101,” SadieEdenBehind Enemy Lines II, and Alien Raiders.

More Info About The Great Leap

Lauren Yee (playwright)
Lauren Yee’s modern plays have been produced by over 15 theatre companies, developed at over 17 and lauded by many. Most recently, her play King of the Yees won the Women’s Invitational at the Ashland New Play Festival, and is being produced by four regional theatres this season alone.  King of the Yees premiered this past season at The Goodman, Center Theatre Group, ACT Theatre, and Canada’s National Arts Centre. Upcoming: Cambodian Rock Band at South Coast Rep (music by Dengue Fever); The Great Leap also at Atlantic Theatre Company. Awards: Kesselring Prize, Francesca Primus Prize. Ma-Yi Writers’ Lab member, Playwrights Realm alumni playwright. Commissions: Geffen, La Jolla, Lincoln Center/LCT3, Portland Center Stage. B.A.: Yale. M.F.A.: UCSD

About Eric Ting (Director)
Regional theatres: Manhattan Theater Club, Soho Rep, BAM, Long Wharf Theater, Goodman Theater, Victory Gardens Theater, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Roundhouse Theater, Berkeley Rep, Mark Taper Forum, Williamstown Theater Festival, Philadelphia Theater Company, Singapore Rep. Special/Awards: Obie Award for Direction, proud member of the SDC Board. Artistic Director of California Shakespeare Theater since 2016.

The Production Team
Wilson Chin (Scenic Designer)
Valérie Thérèse Bart (Costume Designer)
Christopher Kuhl (Lighting Designer)
Curtis Craig (Sound Designer)
Shawn Duan (Projection Design)
Kristin Leahey (Dramaturg)
Elissa Myers Casting / Paul Foquet, CSA (Casting)
Jessica Bomball (Stage Manager)
D. Lynn Reiland(Assistant Stage Manager).

Produced in association with Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company, The Great Leap runs March 23-April 22, Tuesday-Sunday at Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Leo K. Theatre; select Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and evening performances at 7:30 p.m. (no matinees during previews); tickets start at $17; call the Seattle Repertory Theatre Box Office at 206.443.2222 or toll-free at 877.900.9285, or go online at seattlerep.org; Discounted tickets for groups of 10+ may be purchased by calling 206.443.2224.

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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