The famous match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs was played out in Houston's Astrodome in 1973.
So it seemed more than appropriate for the New York City-based One Year Lease Theater Company to premiere the play it commissioned about that game in Houston itself.
In a co-production with Stages Repertory Theatre, the play Balls by Kevin Armento and Bryony Lavery delves into the meaning of this high-stakes event — the so-called "The Battle of the Sexes — while the sounds of tennis balls fly through the air and land on the court.
"We spent the last year analyzing the match, documenting every shot," says Nick Flint, who is co-directing the production. "There's no ball because that would be beyond possible, but we've tracked the entire game and the actors. It's been reduced down and distilled. We are staging, in some form, every shot of the match."
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The usual process at One Year Lease Theater is to do workshops with the playwrights in the room, asking the actors to do physical improvisation, which leads to ideas for the writers, Flint says. Unlike the upcoming movie Battle of the Sexes starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell, Flint says, this is not a biopic, but an attempt to understand the cultural norms of the day and the fight for women's rights.
This will be the first time the New York City-based theater company known for the physicality of its performances will be doing a world premiere in a city other than its home, says Flint.
Asked about how they went about searching for actors who could keep up with the constant activity, Flint says, “We didn’t need people who were professional tennis players, but we needed actors who were very versatile in their bodies in terms of working with theatrical movement. A big part of the presentation is how do we embody tennis in a theatrical context. And also having to learn an inordinate amount of very specific choreography.”
Performances are scheduled for October 11-29 at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at Stages Repertory Theatre. 3201 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713-527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. $25 to $55.