We started the show laughing, ended in tears, and couldn’t stop talking about it after. If that’s not reason enough to buy tickets, I don’t know what is.

Photo by Owen Carey

My husband is both a huge theater nerd and avid basketball fan, so he was especially excited when I mentioned I was reviewing The Great Leap, a joint production from Portland Center Stage and Artists Repertory Theatre, directed by Zi Alikhan. In this production, Lauren Yee, one of the most produced playwrights in the country, manages — in the space of two hours — to take the audience from a story of teenage basketball bravado, through the complicated dynamics of family and culture, to wrestling with the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square. If the Tiananmen Square protests feel distant to you, that is reason enough to make sure you don’t miss The Great Leap. This show will tie you so emotionally to that moment that you will no longer be able to read accounts of it from the remote distance of history and geography. It will feel personal. That’s the magic of Yee’s storytelling.

We decided to leave our kids (preteens) at home for this one, and we were glad we did. The language is very mature, even shocking at times (the audience gasped at one particularly offensive racial slur), and there are many adult references. I would recommend getting a sitter and going for date night, or bringing very mature teens. Portland Center Stage recommends this production for ages 13+.

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If you’re interested in bringing someone who loves basketball, like my husband, prepare them to suspend their disbelief a bit. These are talented actors, not professional athletes. It gets much easier as the performance progresses and they abandon using actual basketballs and mime the sport instead.

Photo by Owen Carey

I liked the first half of the show, even really liked it. But post-intermission is where the magic is. I’m not a big crier, especially in public, and I was in tears by the end of this show. There were so many beautiful moments visually, but my favorite was how Wen Chang’s apartment was elevated and enclosed; it reinforced the sense of being trapped. After the final scene, there was a long hush while the audience collectively absorbed the weight of the moment, and then a swift move to a standing ovation when the actors returned to the stage for the curtain call.

We saw the show on a Wednesday night. Even though we both needed to wake early for work, even though it was already late and we both needed sleep, we couldn’t help staying up even longer to talk about the performance. I recommend making dinner reservations for after, because you will definitely want to discuss. Screen Door is just around the corner, and their outdoor seating is out of the wind, with plenty of propane heaters.

Worried about being indoors in a crowded theater? Rest assured that PCS is taking every precaution to keep patrons safe. Our original tickets were rescheduled when a production member had a breakthrough case of COVID. Masks are required, and vaccine cards are checked with ID at the door, so don’t forget to bring both. If you can’t risk gathering, there will be a video of the show available February 7-13.

Really want to see the production but worried it’s not in the budget? Portland Center Stage is committed to making sure their shows are accessible to all. They offer “Pay What You Will” performances, $5 tickets to those who qualify for Arts for All, discounts for multiple groups, rush and standby tickets and more. Learn about all of the options here. The performance will be audio described on January 30, sign interpreted on February 3, and open captioned on February 5.

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Photo by Owen Carey

IF YOU GO:
The Great Leap by Lauren Yee
When: January 19-February 13
Where: U.S. Bank Main Stage, a joint production of Portland Center Stage at the Armory and Artists Repertory Theatre
Buy tickets here.

Meg Asby
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