One of the most striking things about Candrice Jones’s entertaining, high-energy, and thoughtful play Flex is how it manages to tell both the story of a team and the story of each individual on that team. During a recent conversation with Lileana Blain-Cruz, the production’s director, I mentioned this dynamic. She replied: “That parallel storytelling, between individuals and their group, is one of the many things Candrice does so well in this drama. Neither aspect overwhelms the other. We come to know these high-school seniors in Arkansas and also their basketball team.”

For this production Blain-Cruz, whose most recent LCT undertaking was The Skin of Our Teeth and who this coming season will direct John Adams’s El Niño at the Metropolitan Opera, used techniques akin to coaching. I’ll mention only one, because it’s a consistent part of her working method. “I like to start rehearsals with the actors forming a circle,” Blain-Cruz said. “It gives the actors a chance to check in with each other and it reminds them that they need to work as a team.” She added: “There’s an inherent connection between sports and theater. There’s an audience, there’s a narrative, there’s spectacle! What makes Flex so extraordinary is that it takes both the high stakes needed to win a game and unites that same level of intensity to the narrative. We want to know if the team will win, but we also want to know what will happen in these women’s lives off the court.”

To foster cohesion among the Flex actors, Blain-Cruz wanted them to have time on an actual basketball court. “Lincoln Center Theater very graciously arranged to get us time at a place nearby, at John Jay College.”

Why the need to make the actors’ basketball skills look believable? “Truthfulness is an important theme in Candrice’s play,” Blain-Cruz responded. “So it was crucial to have a degree of truthfulness in every aspect of the production, including the passing and dribbling and shooting.”

I asked Blain-Cruz whether previous basketball experience was a requirement for being cast in Flex. She replied: “Yes! They needed to be able to really play to some degree, but not necessarily at a collegiate or professional level.” The performers chosen brought different levels of expertise to the production, just as the playwright and director did. “Candrice has more experience than I do,” said Blain-Cruz. “She played basketball in college. I played in middle school and high school. I definitely enjoyed my time on the bench, hah! I was better at defense, I played as a forward.”

Another important theme in Flex is the power of women’s bodies. “We see this in the energy and flexibility the performers bring to each performance,” Blain-Cruz commented. “And we see that with how Candrice deals in the play with the issue of an unwanted pregnancy. It’s a powerful question that lives inside this woman, and this young woman wants to be able to make a choice for her own life. You watch her, all of them, trying to act with agency. If they have problems, they try to look for solutions.”

A further theme in Flex is the camaraderie of women. “It was heartening to see the ensemble come together in rehearsals and in previews,” Blain-Cruz said, “and enjoy each other’s company. Just as it was exciting to see how they developed their ball-handling skills during the time we had on an actual court.”

Blain-Cruz talked about trying to simulate a basketball court within the deep thrust space of the Mitzi E. Newhouse. “We can’t do a full-court press the way we could if we were in a proscenium.” But there were other advantages. “The Mitzi is a kind of arena, just like a basketball structure is. And anyway, a basketball stadium’s building is not square. It’s usually more oval or circular.”

Blain-Cruz and the actors had a chance to be reminded of exactly what a basketball arena is when, during the rehearsal period, they went to a WNBA game, featuring the excellent New York Liberty, at the Barclay Center, in Brooklyn. “We had a great time,” said Blain-Cruz. “And with the lighting, the dancing, and the to-and-fro of the players I was reminded of just how theatrical a basketball game can be.”

Brendan Lemon is a freelance journalist in New York.