REVIEW: THE GREAT LEAP
at The Denver Center
by Taylor Jo Oxley
Imagine every aspect of a theater production as a puzzle piece. Each part must be cut precisely to fit its neighbor or the viewer will not see the entire picture. Eric Ting’s production of THE GREAT LEAP is nothing less than a masterfully crafted puzzle. From the perfectly placed projections to the polyester track suits, the world created feels authentic to 1989.
When finding your seat in Ricketson Theatre the eyes are greeted with a delightfully dingy gym that appears to have seen its fair share of sports drills and school dances. From the scuffs on the backboard to the fire alarm on the sidewall, Wilson Chin absolutely hit a slam dunk with the Scenic Design. From there we are transported to 1971, where we learn that the story we are about to witness is not just about an “International Friendship” basketball game between the University of San Francisco and Beijing University, but about the cultural and political landscape of communist China following the Cultural Revolution. Playwright Lauren Yee offers a poignant and well written account of Chinese culture during this era, yet somehow manages to keep the narrative light.
We learn of Beijing coach Wen Chang, played by Joseph Steven Yang, and the relationship he formed with USF coach Saul, played by Bob Ari. During Coach Saul’s visit to China he claimed he “brought basketball to Beijing”, proving that this basketball game is not just friendly, but that China has something to prove. Ari and Yang carry a strong rapport throughout the performance, and play off each other as friends of many years would do. Kudos must be given to Ari for capturing the essence of a foul mouthed basketball coach from New Jersey. Yang’s character breaks the fourth wall frequently, providing narrative for the audience. He moves seamlessly between worlds staying faithful to the peaceful character he created.
Upon meeting our main character Manford, played by Linden Tailor, we get a burst of youthful enthusiasm and see the cockiness of a talented basketball player. While Tailor brought emotion and dedication to the character, it was hard to believe that he is only a teenager. Let it be known that he sank every shot of the basketball during this play. Mad props to you sir. Keiko Green achieved everything that was asked of her in the role of Connie; she was likable and enjoyable to watch.
The play travels back and forth between the 70s and 80s with the help from Costume Designer Valerie Therese Bart. Short basketball shorts, tall socks and aviators made us giggle, tearaway pants, high tops, and sweatbands made us remember. And the masterfully crafted wigs will not soon be forgotten. Permed hair with bangs suited Green perfectly, and the feathered hair with sideburns were incredibly fitting on Ari, save for adhesive tape gleaming in the spotlight. While we’re on the subject of lighting, Christopher Kuhl captured daylight streaming in a gymnasium window perfectly. His design appropriately included caged light fixtures that you probably saw during grade school gym class.
Puzzles take time and concentration. It requires a keen eye. The Great Leap was put together nearly perfectly and upon seeing the final picture there could not have been a dry eye in the place.
Experience a piece of sports history with THE GREAT LEAP, playing now through March 11th at the Ricketson Theatre in the Denver Center Complex. For tickets or more information, contact the Denver Center Box Office by calling 303-893-4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: AdamsVisCom