Penumbra Theatre's arts director Chris Berry is beside himself.

When he selected the female hoop dreams play "Flex" a year ago for the St. Paul company — a play that requires a basketball court and some real hoops skills onstage — he had no idea how perfectly that drama would align with this breakthrough moment for women's sports.

"Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined where the ecosystem would be with Caitlin [Clark], Angel [Reese], Paige [Bueckers], Kamilla [Cardoso] and all these superstars," said Berry, who is also a sports fanatic. "Wow, just wow."

Berry and his team at Penumbra hope that "Flex," which previews April 30 and opens May 2, will draw some crossover court talent to the theater. They've reached out to some of Minnesota's collegiate and professional basketball stars to come see Candrice Jones' drama about high school teammates in rural Arkansas confronting teen pregnancy and career dreams just as the WNBA is about to begin.

The theater also has tapped Tommy Franklin, a 14-season member of the Lynx practice squad (2009-22) during the time Minnesota's winningest professional team notched four WNBA titles, to help coach the actors. He has been drilling them in X's and O's, suicides and layups.

"We're turning these [actors] into players," Franklin said. "We're getting the dialogue in their bodies. These actors are extremely hungry to learn and improve their basketball skills, and that kind of hunger is not something that can be taught."

"Flex" is not the only show to showcase complications around female physical virtuosity. "The Wolves," which played at the Jungle Theater several seasons ago, centered on a fierce soccer team.

Berry chose "Flex" on the strength of its dramaturgy. Last summer, the New York Times heralded the Lincoln Center production of the show as hitting "the right rhythms on the court and off." Penumbra asked Tiffany Nichole Greene, who was the resident director of "Hamilton" for four-plus years, to stage the Minnesota production.

The young women characters are at the crossroads of personal goals, dreams and the expectations of what others have for them, Greene said.

"This play is about what happens when you start to outgrow your village," she said. "What happens when the people who've done everything for you — people who've kept you alive and kept you well — can no longer offer you what you need?"

Greene suggests that "you thank them for what they have done and start to rely on yourself and build your own village."

The "Flex" creative team at Penumbra has been all-in on the zeitgeist moment. The actors went to see the Gophers play. Franklin also has given them personal basketballs. And during March Madness all the way through the championship match, the actors maintained a robust group chat, offering not just commentary but also studying moves like the players' swagger and playing styles.

"They're ready to go," Franklin said.

The young women play characters for whom basketball is a looking glass and shield, Franklin intimated. They get to frame themselves, and their hopes, through a sport that offers a bubble.

"They have each other's back and have built a special camaraderie in the face of adversity," Franklin said, noting that unlike one of the characters, he didn't have to deal with teen pregnancy, but he knows what it means to compete to survive.

"The play resonates deeply, especially around them having to make good decisions that frankly teenagers shouldn't have to make."


Who: By Candrice Jones. Directed by Tiffany Nichole Green.

Where: Penumbra Theatre, 270 N. Kent St., St. Paul.

When: April 30-May 19: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 4 p.m. Sun.

Tickets: $45. 651-224-3180 or