Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Snappy, Provocative Production of
Also see Richard's reviews of Polk County
This all-American play about the nation's favorite pastime premiered at the 251 seat Donmar Warehouse in London in July 2002 where it won critical acclaim. The American cast transferred in September 2002 to the the 280-seat Anspacher Theatre of the Joseph Papp Public Theater where I first saw the play. The production was so popular that it moved to the Walter Kerr on Broadway and ran 355 performances. I saw the production a second time in the larger house; director Joe Mantello had trimmed some of the fat from the Off-Broadway production. He also changed the play from a three act with two intermissions to a two act with just one break. The play went on to win the 2003 Tony Award for Best Play and garnered a tony for Denis O'Hara as Darren's nervous money manager, Mason. The play gathered many awards that year. The Geffen Playhouse presented a great production last year in their 498 seat theatre in Los Angeles.
Take Me Out centers around major league baseball all-star Darren Lemming (Michael Walton), an African-American who comes out of the closet. He is at the top of his game, professionally and personally, and he decides to call a press conference to announce that he is gay. The repercussions of this revelation spread through the team, the media and even the nation. His team, which was near to winning the pennant, starts to lose games. A redneck relief pitcher from Arkansas, Shane Mungit (Harlon George), makes raciest remarks during an interview with reporters about Darren. He does not mind hanging out "with gooks an' the spics and the coons" but he certainly does not like taking a shower with a "faggot."
When Shane is recalled from suspension after the team goes into a slump, Darren expresses his outrage to the the team manager (Jack Davison). It really does not make that much sense that a man who is satisfied with his sexuality, still playing at the top of his field and secure in his supremacy causes such consternation about a big mouth coming back to the team. Suddenly, Darren has become sensitive. It is a big change from the stoic player who let nothing bother him.
One of the main problems with this production is that this biting drama with hard-hitting, natural dialogue is playing in a large house that usually presents musicals. The theatre is just too big for this innovative drama, and the actors are not miked. The projection of the actors on opening night was deplorable, and it seemed many in the audience could not understand what was going on during the first act. The dissertation on baseball by Kippy Sunderland (Doug Wert), baseball friend of Darren and narrator, at the beginning was completely lost. The sound system did improve in the second act after many complaints from the audience during the intermission. Hopefully that has been rectified.
Take Me Out's all male cast looks and acts like major league baseball players. The conversations are natural with the greatest acting shown by Harlon George in Shane's temper tantrum toward the end of the production; the explosiveness is very frightening. Doug Wert is entertaining and satirical as Kippy. Michael Walton is very good in the role of Darren. He has a certain coolness and smugness about him which makes you wonder why he is so uptight about the redneck coming back.
Special kudos go to T. Scott Cunningham as Mason, Darren's money manager. He is uproarious as the gay accountant who never saw a baseball game until Darren came along. His dissertations about baseball and democracy are side splitting and the hit of the production. He gives an invaluable performance as a "nervous nellie." His description of the symbolism of the "home run trot" is completely off the wall, but it breaks up the audience.
There is a lot of nudity in the performance. Men walk around in their birthday suits in several scenes, and of course the most talked about scene is the shower scene in the second act.
Take Me Out continues at the Golden Gate Theatre through Sunday, January 9, 2005. Tickets can though Ticketmaster by calling 415-512-7770, at all Ticketmaster ticketcenters, though Ticketmaster.com and at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor at Market, and the Orpheum Theatre at 1192 Market at 8th, San Francisco.
Best of Broadway's next production will be Caroline or Change, book and lyrics by Tony Kushner and music by Jeanine Tesori, starring Tonya Pinkins. It opens on January 14th at the Curran Theatre. Grease, with guest star Frankie Avalon, comes to the Golden Gate on January 20th and Oklahoma! goes into the Orpheum Theatre on February 1.