It's 1973, and Houston's Astrodome is playing host to one of the biggest cultural events of all time as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs face-off in the Battle of the Sexes tennis match.
From the creative team behind 'Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally', 'Balls' is a high-intensity theatrical retelling of this unforgettable match and the cultural debates it ignited around sexism, women-in-sport, and equality. One Year Lease's high-energy physical style attempts to capture the carnival atmosphere of the original event, and features a shot-by-shot re-imagining of the entire match.
"A thrilling, inventive, physical, breathless re-telling of the Battle of the Sexes...The play smartly moves away from the heaviness on and off the court...Told with impossibly tight choreography, funny interludes and unabashed energy, directors Demos and Flint have taken an already creative script from Armento and Lavery and fashioned it into an innovative, ambitious, unforgettable performance." Full Review
"An exciting and ingenious production...A stunning show that creatively portrays the infamous tennis match...The show presents an energetic, realistic depiction of this 'Battle of the Sexes' match point by point. The narrative cleverly integrates other characters...While the production is colorful, lively, and entertaining, it also does an excellent job of exploring the serious topics...The company of 'Balls' is a dream team." Full Review
“'Balls'…uses the famous match to create a phantasmagoric, nonlinear blend of athletic staging, comedic acting and mime, and historical information tying the significance of the…story…to national and world events, many connected to issues of…gender…parity…Tamika and Corren make their serves and returns so palpable you can practically see the invisible spheres…The dynamics of the game serve as a vibrant metaphor for the forehands, backhands, lobs, and overheads that make up the volleys of life.” Full Review
"Direction is exquisite and makes this 'battle of the sexes', oh so watchable...Unlike most PC correct, contemporary pieces, 'Balls,' does not shove it’s agenda in your face...Kevin Armento and Bryony Lavery’s script asks us to contemplate where the lines are drawn. Thankfully they let us draw our own conclusions...'Balls' is clever, intelligent and so far one of the best plays of the season." Full Review
"There is much more here than the re-creation of the match, itself so marvelously choreographed...'Balls' is a work of consummate collaboration that not only immerses us in the sights and sounds we would have encountered at the Astrodome, but also places that singular moment within its historic context...An exceptionally well-wrought ensemble piece...You'll be hard pressed to find a better retelling of a story that has obtained near-mythic status as 'The Battle of the Sexes.'" Full Review
"'Balls' asks how society has changed since the unsavory display at the Astrodome and whether the changes are for better or worse. Some answers may be evident, but the actors don’t ram them home. Mindful of recent disclosures regarding outrages to civil liberty, including sexual misconduct and coverup, playgoers may find 'Balls' disheartening, but their spirits will be buoyed by the energy and resourcefulness of this highly theatrical escapade." Full Review
"Riggs' persona is well-written, nuanced, and complex. King's character, however, is less developed and her internal struggles with heterosexism, professionalism, and sexual desire are hinted at but never fully revealed. I found this disappointing. At the same time, there is much to recommend in this production...Movement director Natalie Lomonte has done a stellar job of choreographing...All told, it’s a gripping work. Timely and provocative." Full Review
“True, tennis has its serious fans, but it’s a challenge to present it on stage as a dynamic set piece. That the show achieves a you-are-there feel is thanks to Lomonte’s clever movement direction…Privilege, inclusion, and women’s rights are all on the agenda. And those big-picture concerns are neatly played out before our eyes...'Balls' has a credible cast, interesting staging, and sometimes fun, even heartbreaking moments." Full Review
"It's a heady mix, filled with fascinating and evocative details...Despite the richness of its themes, the play is not always successful...Sometimes too much happens at once...At times, King and Riggs end up seeming like supporting characters in their own drama...Still, 'Balls' is never dull...And, in its eccentric way, 'Balls' makes its case that the Battle of the Sexes provides a window on issues that continue to rattle us to this very day." Full Review
"You don't you need to be a tennis player to see and enjoy 'Balls'...Tamaki and Carren...indeed move around the stage-cum-Astrodome court and hit their pretend balls so that it all feels like the real thing. Though the script doesn't give either Tamaki or Carren much to do in the way of nuanced acting, it does take us through the entire game, and does so within the time that the match lasted...Admirable as the performers are, the staging is the big star of this production." Full Review
"There are a whole host of topics and plot points that, if curated a bit more and whittled down with more of a focus, would make this production more precise and polished. While the play itself needs more work, other parts of the production were solid...The movement direction was spot-on...Despite 'Balls's' shortcomings, it is definitely a play that will make you think a bit about how far we've come with women's rights…and how far we've yet to go." Full Review
"This production, with Ellen Tamaki and Donald Corren as the leads, is marked by bursts of intense physicality and madcap energy...The sheer number of disparate threads shoehorned into a discursive script does make one pine for the laser focus that King brought to her matches...'Balls' nonetheless has much to recommend it. Olivia McGiff and Richard Saudek merit special mention as court jester clowns...Many of the equality issues from 45 years ago clearly remain relevant." Full Review
"Straightforward depictions tossed together with inventive departures not only forfeit the zeitgeist that defined the times, they marginalize a significant part of recent history and the result is confusion...As flawed as it stands, 'Balls' has a cornucopia of advantages: readily available, vibrant material, excellent staging, sleek choreography and a talented cast. Assiduous editing might take care of the play. The fine team behind the production can certainly take care of the rest." Full Review
"A highly-stylized stage version of the event...However, the show has more on its mind...It seeks to work on a metaphorical level and to make points about the gender politics of the past four decades...None of the revelations are particularly fresh or insightful...Although, the diverse company of actors...is energetic, it's also uneven...Perhaps the problem may be that there were too many hands involved in the creation of so small a show." Full Review
"A play with so many colliding spheres...While Armento and Lavery manage to juggle a lot in their idea-heavy and plot-light story, quantity ends up burdening a play that could have used a far more delicate touch...Stories circle King and Riggs like satellites...We're led down a rabbit hole of questions...There's not nearly enough time to focus on any of these questions, but they're valuable topics to walk out the door pondering." Full Review
"Though this action is cleverly devised...and executed perfectly...it is neither tennis nor theater but a kind of hysteria. The whole play seems to be constructed backward, starting with a concept requiring a full 85 minutes of athletic representation and ending with the maddening question of how to fill all that time...Never gets anywhere near an insightful gloss on the battle of the sexes, writ large or small...As intellectually underfed as it is imaginatively overindulgent." Full Review
"Hits you on the head with a racket over and over with its constant repetition of its themes. In fact, it’s the playwrights’ predilection of delivering a theme rather than a thesis that makes the 90-minute play feel as endless as a baseball game...The play fails to turn Riggs and King into flesh and blood characters...The play is so obsessed with delivering its pro-equality message that it makes what should’ve been a simple, yet complex, allegory become convoluted and confusing." Full Review
"An overblown and hollow spectacle...Nothing registers as organic or significant, and it all comes across as meaningless filler. The talented cast is spurred on to deliver exaggerated characterizations...When it focuses on these simple human elements, 'Balls' has sparks of interest. However, it goes off on inane tangents with the aim of connecting the events to a contemporary cultural sensibility and is a crashing bore." Full Review
for a previous production "'Balls' fully captures the circus atmosphere of the most well-known—and absurd—tennis match of all time...Aside from fast-paced direction by Ianthe Demos and Nick Flinte, Natalie Lomonte’s movement direction is a triumph in and of itself...So perfectly captures the circus that was the Battle of the Sexes...As a tennis fan, I was impressed at the accuracy of both story and execution. As a theatre fan, I was blown away by the theatricality of the performance." Full Review
for a previous production "This unique production delivers one of the most technically impressive reimaginings of a historical event while delving into the deep emotions behind its social context...An innovative play with the most impressive level of technical precision. It’s rife with humor, poking fun at the very concept of the battle of the sexes. Yet it gets reflective in ways I never expected, offering stark criticism and authentic heartbreak that blurs the lines between the gender wars." Full Review
for a previous production "The play embodies all the audacity, daring and a dash of recklessness, that its title connotes, but it also possesses such sparks of life...'Balls,' ever kinetic, allows a multitude of other points of views to give voice to the event...The stellar performers move beautifully together...While 'Balls' tends to play more cerebral than visceral, it ultimately wins its match made in theater, as one not to be missed." Full Review
for a previous production "Central to the match was the backdrop of the feminist movement...And it’s addressing this movement and its aftermath that 'Balls' serves up and often aces...Without question it’s the depiction of the match itself that’s the main accomplishment and joy of the show...We never really get to know Riggs or King, other than some brief insight into why each is playing...No question we’ve been given a theatrical spectacle. A damn good one at that." Full Review
See it if you want to see a great staging of THE tennis match of the century. Very creative was to keep you engaged as the match was replayed.
Don't see it if you do not like shows about the feminist movement, abortion and women and gay rights.
See it if you can appreciate the impact of '70s cultural icons like Billie Jean King and Helen Reddy. Open to an evening leaning more to a spectacle?
Don't see it if you need a traditional evening of a linear play. This is an event with depth mixed with frolic. The angling of the net is a brilliant effect
See it if you have even a slight recollection of the King-Riggs tennis match, because what you remember will probably be only a fraction of the story.
Don't see it if you need linear storytelling, or hate tennis or don't think there is anything to be gained from an analysis of male-female roles.
See it if you want to see fantastic stage imagination and skill go into creating a tennis game before your very eyes - colorful, exciting, and fun!
Don't see it if You are looking for a very cohesive or profound story - but worth seeing for the staging alone!
See it if You like tennis and want to see an interesting presenting of the match.Make sure to get there a little early to read the history of the show
Don't see it if Do not like non traditional theatre or if tennis is not interesting to you
See it if A show about sexism, sports, and a great talked about match in history. If you like tidbits about feminism and history in your shows
Don't see it if You just want to see a match about tennis
See it if you’d enjoy a drama about the King-Riggs matches interspersed with the story of how gender constructs affect an unrelated romance.
Don't see it if you would prefer a linear plot that focuses only on the participants in the famous tennis match.
Also Absolutely loved the diversity in casting.
See it if you want a show that is about much more than a tennis match. It focuses on women's rights, abortion and LGBT equality, but with humor.
Don't see it if you don't care about how gender equality has advanced in recent history.
See it if You like experimental vision. You're interested in the history. This performance overlaps multiple things into the tennis match.
Don't see it if Some of the humor seems forced. The blending of past and present can be hard to keep track of.
See it if You're interested in Billy Jean King or tennis, if you like inventive staging with a terrifically talented cast.
Don't see it if You saw the movie Battle of the Sexes and expect new insights.
See it if A quirky fun piece of theater..cleverly staged, well acted -quick paced but chaotic at times -you don't need to know about infamous .match
Don't see it if You want linear totally sensible theater--you hate tennis. aren't interested in the historical match, Riggs or BJ King event.
See it if you love tennis, shows about historical events or you want to see a really uniquely staged show.
Don't see it if you don't like tennis, history or you do not like shows that do not strictly follow a linear plot.
See it if you want to see a light inventive take on a very familiar story. (Especially now.)
Don't see it if Imposed subplot to give show the passage of time and values given too much weight and stage time. Clowns imposed for no real reason.
See it if you're interested in tennis and/or gender theory. Best sound design I've heard in a long time, some very impressive staging, and rich ideas.
Don't see it if you'll be bothered by the stylization and bouncing around time and space. And the random clowns. (Why the clowns?) It's a bit overstuffed.
See it if interesting parallel of the battle of the sexes against the modern day. learned a lot about billie jean king.
Don't see it if you have no interest in tennis, the 1970s or the topic of gender
See it if You want to see some very good actors pull off a fun piece, creatively staged in very close quarters.
Don't see it if Getting preached to or hit over the head with “the point” of the work annoys you.
See it if you're interested in a beautifully theatrical evening of sport merged with timely, thought-provoking social commentary.
Don't see it if you aren't in the mood for a play involving sexism, LGBTQ themes, or sports.
See it if you love seeing new ways of approaching how to tell a story, or you are fascinated by the 1973 Battle of the Sexes tennis event.
Don't see it if you are expecting a serious sociological study or super-quality writing/acting -- the coolest thing about this is the technical precision.
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