|TAKE ME OUT|
It’s not just “the love that dare not speak its name” which is given voice in Richard Greenberg’s 2002 play “Take Me Out,” now receiving a beautifully acted revival by director Scott Ellis at Second Stage’s Hayes Theater. It’s also the love that one never knew might even exist, as well as the platonic love that can form between two drastically different people, that drive this remarkable work. Yet it’s the hate that spews forth, both expectedly and unexpectedly, that completely transforms the lives of Greenberg’s richly drawn characters.
Indeed, Greenberg has a lot on his (home) plate here – including a not-so-subtle dissection of identity politics and institutional and individual racism -- and not all of it fits comfortably inside his framework. But much like a well-pitched baseball game, almost all of it is fascinating.
The play’s fulcrum is Darren Lemming, given an appropriately remote and laconic turn by “Grey’s Anatomy” star Jesse Williams in his Broadway debut. He’s ideally cast as the biracial star player of the Empires (read Derek Jeter of the Yankees), whose seemingly casual decision to “come out” as gay ends up causing serious repercussions among his friends and teammates.
True, Lemming’s declaration seemingly changes nothing for his adoring (and straight) teammate, the ultra-loquacious Kippy Sunderstrom (a superb Patrick J. Adams), who essentially doubles as the play’s narrator. Nor do we get any real reaction from Japanese pitcher Takeshi Kawabata (Julian Chi) – who always uses silence to his advantage – and only Spanish speakers will fully understand what Martinez (Hiram Delgado) and Rodriguez (Eduardo Ramos) think of the situation.
But Darren’s announcement definitely stresses out some of his fellow players. In one of the play’s sharpest scenes, the mild-mannered Toddy Koovitz (Carl Lundstedt) freely expresses his new self-consciousness about being naked in the locker room (nicely designed by David Rockwell). And the dangers of this newfound reality are later reinforced by the show’s two shower scenes. (This display of male pulchritude remains titillating for many, but it’s far less shocking than it was 20 years ago.)
Ultimately, and more importantly, Darren’s “confession” changes the entire dynamic been him and his longtime best friend and baseball rival Davey Batts (Brandon J. Dirden, making the most of a tricky role), who proves to have a very different outlook on life than Darren imagined.
Equally importantly, it completely unnerves the team’s newest member, 20-year-old relief pitcher Shane Mungit (the superb Michael Oberholtzer), an immature, backwoods kid with a filthy mouth. In reality, he’s over his head, both professionally and personally, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, he ends up as both victim and victimizer thanks to a rare “outburst” by Darren.
Intriguingly, though, this somewhat byzantine plotline may not be the one you most remember when the play is over. Much of “Take Me Out” concerns the unlikely friendship between Darren and his new money manager, Mason Marzac, brough to effervescent life by stage and TV star Jesse Tyler Ferguson in a Tony Award-worthy supporting turn.
A nerdy 40-something gay man, apparently devoid of other friends or a sex life, Mason becomes almost instantly enamored not just of Darren, but the game of baseball itself, embracing everything from its numerical intricacies to its spirit of optimism. Mason’s increasingly infectious personality eventually seeps its way into Darren’s bloodstream, providing Darren with a possibly brighter outlook on life, and audiences with a genuinely satisfying final inning.
Indeed, Ellis has so masterfully mined the show’s comedy that some of its dramatic impact gets slightly lost. Nonetheless, “Take Me Out” proves to be the highlight of the current theatrical season, thanks to Greenberg, Ellis and a uniformly superb cast who consistently hit it out of the proverbial park.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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