Manford Lum (Morgan Gwilym Tso) takes a jump shot during a scene rehearsal performance of Perseverance Theatre’s upcoming play “The Great Leap” opening Friday evening. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Manford Lum (Morgan Gwilym Tso) takes a jump shot during a scene rehearsal performance of Perseverance Theatre’s upcoming play “The Great Leap” opening Friday evening. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

A look before the ‘Leap’

Previewing Perseverance Theatre’s latest, which blends basketball, Chinese history and identity.

In Perseverance Theatre’s “The Great Leap,” basketball is just a jumping off point.

The Douglas theater’s latest opens Friday and tells a story focused on a promising young Chinese-American boy from San Francisco, Manford Lum (Morgan Gwilym Tso) who finesses his way onto a college basketball team just in time to travel along with the team to Beijing for a “friendship game” led by two coaches with a strained past derived from their clashing cultures.

However, things take a dramatic turn when he enters the country in June 1989, a time of political unrest and during the height of the Tienanmen Square student protests, and he finds himself quickly thrown into a battle far bigger than just a game. Throughout the play, he is forced to grapple with the reality of his identity and history while deciding what choices to make to both win the game and face the painful histories of his past.

Leslie Ishii, artistic director for Perseverance Theatre and director of the show, said exploring racial identities and how people relate to one another is something the play is built upon and was a reason behind the theater’s decision to bring it to Juneau.

“I was looking for something that was cross-racial and we can look at how we relate to each other in different communities and identities,” she said. “How do we relate to each other, how do we deal with issues of our time?”

Despite the play’s focus on basketball, its script largely deviates from just focusing on the game and instead takes a deeper dive into discussing topics such as racism, political unrest and international politics while also exploring individual levels of struggling with identity and culture.

Ishii said what makes the script unique is its connection to real-life events and its strict reliance on using only four characters to develop a narrative out of different facets of their identities. She said coming from a legacy of organized sports in the Japanese community and being an activist for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders people, she was immediately drawn to the play after seeing it for the first time.

“The play has so much meaning for me,” she said. “I think it tries to capture that great leap of China moving away from being a communist country politically to being a democracy and how people were fighting for their rights and their own self-determination during political unrest.”

Tso agreed and said that even though the story deals with a lot of difficult topics, it somehow manages to bring an abundance of humor to the characters despite the situations they are grappling with.

“It’s an incredibly fun show and this has one of the best scripts I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “It’s just a really fun and entertaining play to be a part of — the script really carries itself.”

Tso said what made the play especially fun for him to be a part of was having to learn the physicality of how to act like a basketball player as he had little to no background in the sport before taking on the role. He said preparation included both reading his lines and spending time on the court.

“We literally had basketball practices,” he said, laughing.

Ishii said the show’s focus on basketball was also another reason why the theater decided to choose the show because of Southeast Alaska’s deep roots and connection to the game.

“We know how important basketball is to this community,” she said, laughing.

She encouraged the community to come out to support local theater and said it’s a great way to get out of the house.

“It’s active, it’s funny, it’s got heart — in the middle of winter it’s a great night out,” she said.

Know & Go

What: Perseverance Theatre’s “The Great Leap”

Where: Perseverance Theatre, 913 3rd St., Douglas.

When: Feb. 17 through March 5.

Admission: General admission costs $45.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 15

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 13, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Bill Thomas, a former Republican state representative from Haines, announced Friday he is dropping out of the race for the District 3 House seat this fall. (U.S. Sustainability Alliance photo)
Bill Thomas drops out of District 3 House race, says there isn’t time for fishing and campaigning

Haines Republican cites rough start to commercial season; incumbent Andi Story now unopposed.

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, speaks at the Alaska Democratic Party’s state convention on May 18 at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Peltola among few Democrats to vote for annual defense bill loaded with GOP ‘culture war’ amendments

Alaska congresswoman expresses confidence “poison pills” will be removed from final legislation.

A celebratory sign stands outside Goldbelt Inc.’s new building during the Alaska Native Regional Corporation’s 50th-anniversary celebration on Jan. 4. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Medical company sues Goldbelt for at least $30M in contract dispute involving COVID-19 vaccine needles

Company says it was stuck with massive stock of useless needles due to improper specs from Goldbelt.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 12, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A yearling black bear waits for its mother to return. Most likely she won’t. This time of year juvenile bears are separated, sometimes forcibly, by their mothers as families break up during mating season. (Photo courtesy K. McGuire)
Bearing witness: Young bears get the boot from mom

With mating season for adults underway, juveniles seek out easy food sources in neighborhoods.

A chart shows COVID-19 pathogen levels at the Mendenhall wastewater treatment plant during the past three months. (Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Wastewater Surveillance System)
Juneau seeing another increase in COVID-19 cases, but a scarcity of self-test kits

SEARHC, Juneau Drug have limited kits; other locations expect more by Saturday.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters during a news conference Feb. 7. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Gov. Dunleavy picks second ex-talk radio host for lucrative fish job after first rejected

Rick Green will serve at least through Legislature’s next confirmation votes in the spring of 2025.

Most Read