Published : Thursday, November 7, 2019 | 12:30 PM
Pasadena Playhouse, the State Theater of California, presents a co-production with East West Players, the Los Angeles premiere of Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap, directed by Tony Award winner BD Wong. From the author of Cambodian Rock Band and King of the Yees, comes the story of an American basketball team in Beijing where the coaches find themselves in a conflict that runs deeper than the strain between the countries, and where a young player’s actions become the accidental focus of attention.
The Great Leap stars Justin Chien as “Manford;” Christine Lin as “Connie;” Grant Chang as “Wen Chang;” and James Eckhouse as “Saul.”
The production will play from Tuesday, November 6 through Sunday December 1; the press opening is November 10 at 5:00pm.
BD Wong, who starred in the New York off-Broadway Atlantic Theatre and San Francisco American Conservatory Theatre productions of this play, now directs. He is most known to audiences from his roles in the Jurassic Park films and on NBC’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and most recently, on USA Network’s Mr. Robot (Emmy and Critic’s Choice nominations). Wong is the only actor ever to have received all five major New York Theater awards for a single role – in M. Butterfly — his Broadway debut: the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Theater World Award, the Clarence Derwent Award, and the Tony Award.
Lauren Yee is already known to area theatregoers from the Center Theatre Group production of King of the Yees, and Cambodian Rock Band at South Coast Rep.
For The Great Leap, Sara Holdren of New York Magazine said “An exhilarating, deeply satisfying piece of work, full of bright, inquisitive, humorous life…Yee has crafted a moving fiction around pieces of real history — her own and that of China in the years after the Cultural Revolution, leading up to the protests in Tiananmen Square that turned deadly.”
Director BD Wong says, “As an Asian American director I am always looking for a brand of representation that transcends our difficult history in the media. This play is important as it presents Asian American characters in a contemporary American play that are not trading on racial tropes of past plays and are written in an authentically three-dimensional way.
The collaboration between East West Players and Pasadena Playhouse is also vitally important to me, and on a personal level there is a deep coincidence for me of these two theatres coming together. I came to L.A. in 1984 and in 1986 was in the East West Players production of A Chorus Line. I then auditioned for Mail at Pasadena Playhouse and was hired to do this wildly popular musical, which transferred to Broadway. While I was in Mail, I auditioned for M. Butterfly, and was replaced in Mail by Alan Maroka, who had been in A Chorus Line with me at East West Players. So, it means so much for me to come full circle and be working with these two theatres again for two generations of audiences who are still so invested as we move forward.”
Pasadena Playhouse Producing Artistic Director Danny Feldman says, “I am absolutely thrilled over the outstanding cast and incredible creative team we have assembled for the Los Angeles premiere of The Great Leap. Lauren Yee is one of our most important new playwrights, and it is an honor to have Tony winner BD Wong, who starred in The Great Leap off-Broadway, direct our production. I am also grateful to be presenting The Great Leap in partnership with East West Players, which is vital to our mission at the Playhouse.”
East West Players Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai says “Our 54th season at East West Players is one of laughter and change, often in the face of loss. We started with the question: To whom do we the look to in these troubling times? And our response is a season where we discover that we are the ones we are waiting for. With The Great Leap we are able to illustrate this -both through this incredible play and company led by BD as well as this historic partnership with Pasadena Playhouse.”
The creative team for The Great Leap features set and costume design by Lex Liang; assistant set and costume design by Rodrigo Hernandez; lighting design by Rebecca Bonebrake; sound design by Leon Rothenberg; projection design by Hana Sooyeon Kim; and stage management by Brandon Cheng.
Tickets for The Great Leap start at $25 and are available at pasadenaplayhouse.org, by phone at (626) 356-7529, and at the box office at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena.
About The Pasadena Playhouse
The Pasadena Playhouse is a place where people have gathered for 100 years to experience bold and important theater. It is one of the most prolific theaters in American history with a legacy of profound theatrical impact and courageous new work. In 1937, the Playhouse was officially recognized as the State Theater of California for its contribution and commitment to the dramatic arts. Today it continues that tradition of excellence under the helm of producing artistic director Danny Feldman. Dedicated to enriching lives through theater, community programs and learning initiatives, Pasadena Playhouse is a living force in the community.
About the East West Players
Established in 1965, East West Players is the nation’s leading Asian American theatre company for our award-winning productions that blend Eastern and Western movements and culture. In over 50 years of history, East West Players has since premiered more than 228 plays and musicals, along with over 1,000 diverse readings and workshops for actors, writers, and directors. By building bridges between East and West, we have cultivated a loyal audience of over 70% people of color. Our company continues to build platforms for artists of color while advocating for multi-faceted representations of the Asian Pacific American experience in the performing arts.
Justin Chien (Manford) is an actor from Taiwan. He has a BFA in Acting from USC. He recently appeared in Valley of the Heart at the Mark Taper Forum. As co-founder of Rogue Shore Pictures, he has variously written, acted in, and directed the award-winning short films Tiger of the White Sun, Reverallium, and Continuum, which won Outstanding Short Film at the 2019 Chinese American Film Festival. www.justin-chien.com
Christine Lin (Connie) Lin is honored to make her Pasadena Playhouse debut with this beautiful production and especially grateful to BD for coaching our team. A Chicago suburb native, Lin originated the role of “Miss Zhao” in David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish on Broadway and at the Goodman Theatre. She has also worked with CalArts CNP at the Huntington Library, Cincinnati Playhouse, Nashville Rep, Firefly Theater & Films, InFusion Theatre, Halcyon Theatre and Stir-Friday Night! Television: The Blacklist, Limitless, Gossip Girl, The Following, Alpha House, Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn. Film: Big Words, Blowtorch, Listen Up Philip. Education: Steppenwolf West, Second City Chicago Conservatory, UCB NYC/LA, BSE degree in electrical and biomedical engineering, Duke University. | @Christine2Lin
Grant Chang (Wen Chang) is thrilled to make his West Coast debut at the Pasadena Playhouse. A native New Yorker, Chang minored in educational theater at New York University and studied acting at HB Studios. He’s most recently known for his recurring guest star role as “Grant” in Mr. Robot. Theater: Marian Jean (NYTW), The Nanjing Race (Abingdon Theatre Company), A Shot Away (Red Fern Theatre), Mame with Sandy Duncan (Barrington Stage Co). Television: Mr. Robot, Deception, The Knick, House of Cards, Daredevil, Law and Order, Law and Order Criminal Intent. Film: Off Jackson Avenue, The Cut Runs Deep, Finding You, Dark Horse, Feel. Represented by Vanguard Management Group. | @hipcatg
James Eckhouse (Saul) Most recently James starred on Broadway opposite Bryan Cranston in the Tony Award-winning drama All The Way and as ‘Don Knotts’ in the HBO series High and Mighty. This fall he appears opposite Rita Wilson in Simple Wedding and in Pencil Town. James directed last season’s highly acclaimed comedy, American Hero, a co-production with IAMA Theatre in the Carrie Hamilton. Other theater credits include: Red Line – IAMA, The Escort – The Geffen, The Goat – Mark Taper, Mother Courage – La Jolla, Six Degrees of Separation – Old Globe, and The Downside – Pasadena Playhouse. James has appeared in dozens of TV shows and films; he is perhaps most well-known to TV audiences playing ‘Jim Walsh’ on the original Beverly Hills 90210. He has a BFA in drama from the Juilliard School.
BD Wong (Director) Born and raised in San Francisco, Wong is the only actor ever to have received all five major New York Theater awards for a single role – namely his performance in M. Butterfly (his Broadway debut): the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, the Theater World Award, the Clarence Derwent Award, and the Tony Award.
Wong gained notice on HBO’s critically acclaimed series Oz as the resilient prison priest (Father Ray) for the show’s six-season run. Then, for eleven seasons on the top-rated NBC series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit he played George Huang, FBI forensic psychiatrist and expert on the criminal mind.
Other television credits include ABC’s All-American Girl (as Margaret Cho’s brother Stuart) and HBO’s telefilms And the Band Played On and The Normal Heart, as well as guest-starring roles on Sesame Street, The X-Files, Madam Secretary, Nurse Jackie, NCIS: New Orleans and American Horror Story: Apocalypse. He co-stars in Awkwafina is Nora from Queens, airing in January 2020 on Comedy Central. He recently has been seen in two drastically different television roles simultaneously: as the nefarious Hugo Strange on Gotham and as the mysterious transgender hacker “whiterose” on Mr. Robot. For his work on the latter, he received an Emmy, Gold Derby and a Critic’s Choice Award nominations. Wong has appeared in more than twenty feature films, including Bird Box, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Jurassic World, Focus, The Space Between Us, Stay, The Salton Sea, Executive Decision, Seven Years in Tibet, Jurassic Park, Father of the Bride (1 & 2), and The Freshman. He can also be heard as the voice of Shang in the Disney animated films Mulan and Mulan II.
Wong’s additional New York theater credits include The Great Leap at The Atlantic Theatre Company, The Tempest, A Language of Their Own, As Thousands Cheer, Shanghai Moon, and the Broadway revivals of the musicals You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures (the latter for which he received a Drama League nomination for distinguished performance). He produced and directed The Yellow Wood for NYMF and Cindy Cheung’s Speak Up Connie for the All For One Festival, and co-wrote and directed Alice Chan for the La Jolla Playhouse POP Tour. He recently starred regionally in The Orphan of Zhao at La Jolla Playhouse and San Francisco’s A.C.T. In addition, he has starred in five productions of the one-man musical Herringbone.
Wong published his first book, Following Foo: the electronic adventures of the Chestnut Man (Harper Entertainment), a memoir about the premature birth of his son, in 2003.
Community service recognitions include those from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian AIDS Project, GLAAD, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Asian Arts Alliance, Association of Asian-Pacific American Artists, East/West Players, Second Generation, Organization of Chinese Americans and APICHA. He sits on the boards of both the Actors Fund of America and Rosie’s Theater Kids. | Instagram: @wongbd
Lauren Yee (Playwright) was born and raised in San Francisco and currently lives in New York City. Her plays include Ching Chong Chinaman (Pan Asian, Mu Performing Arts, SIS Productions, Impact Theatre), Crevice (Impact), The Hatmaker’s Wife (The Playwrights Realm, The Hub, Moxie Theatre, AlterTheater, PlayPenn), Hookman (Encore Theatre, Company One), In a Word (SF Playhouse, Cleveland Public, upcoming at Strawdog and Mo’olelo), King of the Yees (The Goodman Theatre’s New Stages Festival), Samsara (Victory Gardens, O’Neill Conference, Bay Area Playwrights Festival), and The Tiger Among Us (MAP Fund, Mu, Lark Playwrights Week).
Her work has been developed at Lincoln Center/LCT3, The Goodman, The Public, Second Stage, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, Centerstage, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Kitchen Dog, the Magic Theatre, and others. Former Dramatists Guild fellow, MacDowell Colony fellow, Public Theater Emerging Writers Group member, Women’s Project Lab playwright, Second Stage Shank playwright-in-residence, and The Playwrights Realm Page One resident playwright. Her plays have been nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the L. Arnold Weissberger Award, and the Outer Critics Circle’s John Gassner Award.
Lauren Yee’s Cambodian Rock Band, with music by Dengue Fever, premiered at South Coast Rep, subsequent productions at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, La Jolla Playhouse, City Theatre, Merrimack Rep, Signature Theatre, and Portland Center Stage.
Her play The Great Leap has been produced at the Denver Center, Seattle Repertory, Atlantic Theatre, the Guthrie Theatre, American Conservatory Theatre, and Arts Club, with future productions at InterAct Theatre, Long Wharf, and Asolo Rep. Honors include the Whiting Award, Horton Foote Prize, Kesselring Prize, Primus Prize, a Hodder Fellowship at Princeton, and the #1 and #2 plays on the 2017 Kilroys List. She’s a member of New Dramatists, Ma-Yi Writers’ Lab member, and Playwrights Realm alumni playwright. TV credits: Pachinko (Apple), Mixtape (Netflix). Current commissions include Geffen Playhouse, La Jolla Playhouse, Portland Center Stage, Second Stage, South Coast Rep. BA: Yale. MFA: UCSD. www.laurenyee.com