This weekend the Guthrie Theater kicks off the new year with “The Great Leap,” a basketball-themed show about U.S. and Chinese teams competing in Beijing.

Playwright Lauren Yee was inspired by the experiences of her father, a Chinese-American who played on a U.S. squad that traveled to China for some friendly games in 1981, after the formerly closed-off country started accepting Western visitors again.

“He was basically on a pickup team with some friends and they went up against Chinese players who were Olympic athletes. Of course they got slaughtered,” said the sharp-witted New York writer, who developed her humor-laced drama at Minneapolis’ Playwrights’ Center.

The Guthrie seems to be downplaying the sports angle in its promo materials — “You don’t have to be a history or basketball buff to engage with the story,” says its website — but perhaps it can lure a few die-hard jocks to the McGuire Proscenium Stage. After all, competitive drive and the urge to excel are what this play is all about.

“Everyone is hustling for their moment or the right circumstance to seize whatever destiny they have imagined for themselves,” said Yee, who premiered two earlier plays in the Twin Cities at Theater Mu: “Ching Chong Chinaman” and “The Tiger Among Us.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time a playwright has used sports to tackle serious themes. Read on for our power rankings of dramas that put athletes in the spotlight.

 

‘The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity’
Sport: Pro wrestling
What’s at stake: In a game that contains a fair amount of acting, some clever tricksters try to bust out of the bigotry that binds them.
How sporty is it? ★★★★ out of 4 stars
Like a flying drop kick. Buff actor Ansa Akyea starred in a 2010 staging of the Kristoffer Diaz play at Mixed Blood Theatre.

 

 

‘The Royale’
Sport: Boxing.
What’s at stake: Personal pathos and barriers outside the ring faced by a fighter that playwright Marco Ramirez based on Jack Johnson, the first black champion.
How sporty is it? ★★★★ out of 4 stars
A knockout, as demonstrated by a rhythmically hypnotic production at Yellow Tree Theatre last winter.

 

‘Colossal’
Sport: Football
What’s at stake: A one-time football player, now in a wheelchair because of an accident, struggles to make sense of it all in Andrew Hinderaker’s play.
How sporty is it? ★★★ out of 4 stars
There was no helmet-to-helmet contact, but Mixed Blood became a gridiron in a 2014 production featuring two teams, dancers and a drum corps.

 

‘The Great Leap’
Sport: Basketball
What’s at stake: International politics, family dynamics and assumptions are upset as a Chinese-American athlete visits his mother’s ancestral home in this Lauren Yee play.
How sporty is it? ★★ out of 4 stars
Players dribble, do free throws, layups and pick-and-rolls, but politics and dance dominate the action in the Guthrie production opening this weekend.

 

‘In the Red and Brown Water’
Sport: Track and field
What’s at stake: A poor, talented track star living in the projects tries to outrun all the economic, social and other challenges arrayed against her in a work by Tarell Alvin McCraney.
How sporty is it: ★★ out of 4 stars
So-so, although actor Christiana Clark looked downright Olympian as she sprinted in an indelible 2011 Guthrie production.

 

‘The Wolves’
Sport: Soccer
What’s at stake: A team of fearless young women navigates tough coming-of-age questions during warmups in Sarah DeLappe’s play.
How sporty is it? ★★ out of 4 stars
These fierce athletes do a little kicking and passing in this 2018 Jungle Theater hit, returning for a Jan. 29-Feb. 17 run at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.

 

‘Take Me Out’
Sport: Baseball
What’s at stake: A litany of bigotries falls in a baseball locker room as a biracial baseball player comes out as gay.
How sporty is it? ★ out of 4 stars
Richard Greenberg’s play shows the muscle and milieu behind the game, but no actual hitting or pitching.

 

‘Deuce’
Sport: Tennis
What’s at stake: Two former doubles partners relive their glory days in Terrence McNally’s comedy — and kvetch about how their sport has gone to ruin. (Here’s looking at your outfits, Serena Williams!)
How sporty is it? ★ out of 4 stars
The action is only implied as the women (Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes did it on Broadway) sit courtside. Perhaps Sally Wingert and Regina Marie Williams could suit up for a set in the Twin Cities?