FOLLOW THE BASKETBALL, IT IS ALWAYS YOUR TURN IN ‘THE GREAT LEAP’
THE SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY RETURNS TO LIVE ON STAGE PERFORMANCES FOR THEIR 39TH SEASON WITH LAUREN YEE’S BRILLIANT PLAY ABOUT RAISING YOUR VOICE AND STANDING YOUR GROUND.
The San Jose Stage returns from the Covid months with a brilliant production of Lauren Lee’s THE GREAT LEAP. The basketball court is now open at the 1st Street stage in San Jose only through October 17th. Directed by Jeffery Lo who says “I’m so excited for the return to live theatre and to collaborate with San Jose Stage on THE GREAT LEAP”. “This play truly brings us everything that makes theatre such a vital and powerful art form. In a play filled with energy, sports and humor, Lauren Yee has created a captivating story that also explores the push and pull of family, country and belief in one’s self”.
Set between Beijing and San Francisco, THE GREAT LEAP is a tale of two countries into one, while overlapping in basketball, family, and politics. In a basketball battle, “it is always your turn”. says Coach Saul, played by the skillful Tim Kniffin. The USF Coach is a little reluctant to take on 17 year old Manford Lum played by the polished James Aaron Oh, an energized teen who lacks the height this coach normally requires for his team. But Lum is a clever teen from the street courts of Chinatown. He fast talks his way onto the USF team traveling to Beijing for a “friendship” game; challenging history that is personal and political. This sharp play pits a USF Dons coach against his Chinese coach while protests and cultural revolution take their personal toll against the American Dream.
Manford doesn’t want to be good at basketball “for an Asian boy”, he beats everyone at the game. After just losing his mother he still shoots a hundred free throws a night before going to bed. He gets in trouble for shouting at his own teammates. Aaron Oh steals the court in this two act play. He is non stop compelling whenever he is on stage. Playwright Lauren Yee’s timeline is based near ‘Tiananmen Square’ with a chilling reminder of China in 1989. Eventually it creeps into the legendary game that Coach Saul and the entire Chinese Communist Party have waited 18 years for this rematch.
Coach Wen Chang, played by the superb Alex Hsu, says at one point that the Tiananmen Square protesters do not care if they die as long as their deaths are understood. Hsu's rich authentic performance is a highlight of this play. Similarly, Manford has spent his entire life trying to be seen and understood. Back in San Francisco his cousin Connie played by the terrific Monica Ho encourages Manford to follow his dead mother’s wishes and take the ”outside”. Manford finally realizes his mom was his number one fan.
Christopher Fitzer’s set is a vast gym with hardwood floors that gleam under Michael Palumbo’s neatly designed lights. With four actors onstage at once, the space often feels open, the way gyms do without the bustle of winning teams and squeaking sneakers. Sound designer Christopher Sauceda fills the room with sounds of bouncing balls and nets, creating convincing versions of San Francisco, Beijing, and the final game. The green and gold are reflected in Brooke Jennings’ costumes and Manford’s oversized clothes in the first act tell its own story of how the teen was surviving between homes. Stage manager Allison F Rich moves the four actors on and off the court like a tied basketball game.
Yee’s electric writing has a rhythm, even as the story keeps guessing any outcome. Yee without leaning on stereotypes turns between language and the clashes between Saul’s American way, rude boorish, impatient profanity versus Chang’s Chinese way classic polite, traditional, and gracious. Lauren Yee says “This is a play about basketball, but it is also a basketball play. The game is reflected not just in the subject matter but the structure and language, and the way characters move through space. We also should have a sense that someone is always watching. We may or may not see any actual basketballs on stage”.
Director Lo stages The Great Leap like watching any great tied basketball game. Aaron Oh brings the energy from the start, playing the explosive underdog ready to fight his way from poverty to a professional court. But coach Chang’s bullying to keep the boy out of the Beijing game begins to feel personal as more facets of Chang’s past start to show. Hsu plays Chang with great strength and passion; he is alone on stage in his final, powerful scene. The Great Leap bounces with energy to the final game buzzer. Even though props master Matt Casey did not require any basketballs - be sure to bring your own, this play is a must see.
SAN JOSE STAGE COMPANY PRESENTS
THE GREAT LEAP
BY LAUREN YEE
Featuring; James Aaron Oh as “Manford,” Monica Ho* as “Connie,” Alex Hsu* as “Wen Chang,”
and Tim Kniffin* as “Saul.”
San Jose Stage Company
490 S 1st Street, San Jose, CA 95113
Must close October 17, 2021
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
TICKETS: $32 - $72 at http://www.thestage.org/tickets.
SUBSCRIPTIONS: $125 - $260 at https://www.thestage.org/subscribe.
Photos by Dave Lepori
VMEDIA ARTS ETHAN LE INTERVIEWS DIRECTOR JEFFREY LO AND THE CAST
RANDELL KING STATEMENT
“Our upcoming season celebrates the resilience of the human spirit,” says Artistic Director, Randall King, “our innate strength to survive and withstand any storm to overcome with a renewed sense of passion and purpose. Lauren Yee’s THE GREAT LEAP gives insight and perspective to our undaunted resilience, individually and collectively.”
COVID-19 Safety Protocols for In-Person Performances
The health and safety of our artists, patrons, and staff are top priority. In order to safely return to in-person performances at San Jose Stage Company, we have implemented the following policies and procedures:
● Proof of full vaccination will be required of all patrons before entering the theatre. ● Masks will be required for all patrons and staff while inside the theatre and lobby area. ● San Jose Stage Company is a fully vaccinated company, i.e., artists, staff, and crew are vaccinated.
● Concessions will be available, and food and drink consumption will be permitted in the outdoor courtyard. No food or drinks will be permitted in the theatre or lobby area.
● We have upgraded our air filters and increased air flow in the theatre.
● Hand sanitizer stations will be provided throughout the theatre and lobby area. ● Performers will not be masked.
● All tickets will be e-tickets for touchless check-in.
● Digital playbills will be available by QR code and website link. No physical playbills will be provided.
● Patrons will not be allowed to wait for performers in the lobby after the show.
● The theatre, backstage, and lobby areas will be sanitized after each performance.
The Stage is constantly monitoring state and county guidelines and these policies may change and evolve over time. We appreciate your cooperation in maintaining safety at The Stage. These policies and procedures are in place to keep our doors open for live performances. If you have any questions or concerns regarding our policies, please contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.