Their knees are bent, palms outstretched, eyes shiny and alert.
The younger girls of Woman Prepare, a highschool basketball crew in rural Arkansas, prepare for each chance on the courtroom — which, within the beloved custom of sports-focused coming-of-age tales, additionally means making ready for maturity.
So maybe it ought to come as no shock that within the first scene of “Flex,” which opened Thursday at Lincoln Heart Theater’s Mitzi E. Newhouse, the entire feminine gamers seem like pregnant. As this introduction to an early New York slam-dunk makes clear, playwright Candice Jones additionally excels at sly sitcom humor and the quick beats of teenage, athletic dialog.
The lumpy bumps beneath Woman Prepare’s numerous informal printed tees (it is 1997, and the right fits are by Mika Eubanks) are clearly pretend, contraband from a house ecology class. However for April (a candy Brittany Bellizeare), the prospect of getting a baby isn’t any joke; she has been on the bench because the crew coach (Christiana Clark) discovered of her being pregnant. The bumper drills are each a protest and a present of solidarity.
Threatening that bond is the required rivalry between two high gamers: scrappy, headstrong crew captain Starra (a nagging Erica Matthews), who tries to show her mettle to her late mom, and Sidney (pretty Tamera Tomakili), an eye-rolling, hair-flipping Los Angeles transplant who talks with a smile. There’s additionally a fragile romance between Donna (Renita Lewis, the present’s delicate MVP) and Cherise (Ciara Monique), a youth minister whose religion is at odds along with her needs, and April’s consideration of an abortion.
Jones and director Lileana Blain-Cruz (each former highschool basketball gamers) reveal a deft mastery of the sport, not solely within the motion sequences narrated on the blond wooden board and half courtroom (by Matt Saunders), but in addition within the passing or taking pictures dynamics that bind these pals and teammates collectively.
There’s even a chemistry in “Flex” that evokes a burning affinity with the house crew on the a part of the viewers (the cheers and applause intensified with enthusiasm all through the efficiency I attended). Maybe it is impressed by Woman Prepare’s spelling cheers (“huge,” “unhealthy,” and “boss” are distinguished), or their Aaliyah singing with the roof down on Donna’s dusty blue Chrysler convertible (one other spectacular feat of design).
However the particular sauce additionally lies within the cautious economic system of Jones’ character growth, which presents simply sufficient element to encourage curiosity about who these girls would possibly change into with out pretending to know precisely who they’re. (They’re youngsters, in any case.) Whether or not Starra makes it to the WNBA, she’ll must wrestle along with her ego. And Cherise would not appear more likely to let go of God, however what if her devotion turns into a entice?
That “Flex” succeeds in producing such curiosity within the potential of its characters is a testomony to the extraordinary synergy between Jones, Blain-Cruz and the solid members, who’re as current and engaged in dialogue as they’re nimble at internet.
The tropes of the sports activities style trotted out right here – a pact of purity betrayed, a contest for the eye of scouts – are accompanied by bigger issues that make youth and crew sports activities such troublesome and fertile floor. What will we owe one another and at what price to one another? Why study the that means of equity when life is so unfair? To bounce again when it knocks you down and to savor the moments when it makes your wildest goals come true.
By August 20 on the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, Manhattan; lct.org. Length: 2h15.