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'The Great Leap' review: Politics meet basketball

BD Wong stars in "The Great Leap" by

BD Wong stars in "The Great Leap" by Atlantic Theater Company. Credit: Ahron R. Foster

WHAT "The Great Leap"

WHERE Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W. 16th St.

INFO $50, 866-811-4111,

BOTTOM LINE Fast-moving play combines the personal and the political.

Ping-pong diplomacy takes to the basketball court in Lauren Yee's fast-paced "The Great Leap," getting its New York premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company.

As she has done in previous works, the playwright makes liberal use of her family lore, telling the story of a teen not good enough for the NBA or college — who played every day on the courts of San Francisco's Chinatown and eventually competed in a series of exhibition games against top teams in China. The play "is not my father's story," she writes in an author's note, "but it is a story like it."

Yee focuses on one of those games, combining her personal story with the political — the game happens on the day of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which works heavily into the plot. The 17-year-old Manford (a combustible Tony Aidan Vo) talks his way onto the exhibition team, convincing Ned Eisenberg's trash-mouthed coach Saul of his worth ("I will win you games! I will score you points!") and some impressive shooting skills.

At the play's heart, though, is Wen Chang, the man Saul met 18 years earlier when he traveled to China to help initiate the nation's basketball program. BD Wong plays Wen Chang with the quiet humility and deep regrets of a man whose every dream has been suppressed by the uncompromising teachings of the Cultural Revolution. There is a deeper mystery at play here, and while somewhat predictable, it makes the unexpected ending even more heartbreaking.

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