By Pat Launer
A wild week of theater – what a range! —
From the pedestrian to the nude to the downright strange.
Adolescent angst brings us high school again
And there’s Mapplethorpe, Einstein and eight naked men.
Ballplayers have their hands all over each other. They regularly snap towels and slap each other’s butts. But they are not, I repeat, not gay. No professional ballplayer has ever come out. Sports is a testosterone-driven Man’s World, and it’s one boat no one wants to rock. Well, not until playwright Richard Greenberg stepped up to the plate. He’s a recent convert to the religion of baseball. And his first time at bat, he hit a home run: a Tony Award for Best Play (2003). Some guys just have the gift. Darren Lemming is one of them. In “Take Me Out,” he’s the superstar, the major league outfielder who’s at the top of his game, beloved by fans and teammates, the darling of the day. And then, he decides to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. He calls a press conference and ‘outs’ himself. And his world (maybe even the world at large) is never quite the same.
Greenberg’s play uses baseball symbolically. In one extended speech, in fact, the game is viewed as “a perfect metaphor for hope in a Democratic society.” Equal opportunity. No stressful time-clock. Rules and enforcement of rules, with judges present at all times and appeals possible. Nuances, symmetry, even multiple trinities (it’s a game of threes). And there’s the potential for “turning the situation to your favor… down to the last try.” Best of all, “unlike Democracy, baseball acknowledges loss… insists on it.” “Democracy is lovely,” concludes the giddy, gay financial adviser who’s a new devotee of the game, “but baseball’s more mature.”
Greenberg has clearly inserted parts of himself into that nerdy new-baseball-addict accountant, Mason Marzac (funny/antic T. Scott Cunningham) and also into the narrator of the story, the New York Empires’ brainy shortstop, Kippy Sunderstrom (the delightfully engaging and appealing Doug Wert), close friend of the stubbornly naïve and sometimes spoiled Darren. No one quite realizes the impact Darren’s announcement will have. First, on the team, who, like Adam and Eve, suddenly recognize their nakedness (the towel-snapping and butt-slapping immediately cease). And on Darren’s friends, both black and white (he’s biracial). And on his nemesis, the relief pitcher Shane Mungitt (scary-looking, crotch-scratching, tobacco-chewing Harlon George), who’s a bigot and a homophobe. Then there’s the coach, the media and the public. And, well, the question arises in every viewer’s mind, whether right now, today, our country could handle this particular type of taboo-busting tearing-down of a sports hero, and the answer remains a resounding ‘No.’
Greenberg covers a lot of bases; he’s got plenty on his mind, and there’s a good deal to contemplate here, including race, class and sexual politics. The ending fizzles a bit and feels somewhat unsatisfying. But the play is both funny and provocative, and very well done in this touring production, directed by the gifted Joe Mantello , who helmed the award-winning London and New York productions, and like our own Jack O’Brien