Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg. Directed by Joe Mantello. Set design by Scott Pask. Costume design by Jess Goldstein. Lighting design by Kevin Adams. Sound design by Janet Kalas. Cast: Daniel Sunjata, Denis O'Hare, Neal Huff, Frederick Weller, Kevin Carroll, David Eigenberg, Gene Cabriel, Robert M. Jimenez, Joe Lisi, Kohl Sudduth, James Yaegashi.
A play about identity should not suffer from its own identity crisis. That's the primary problem at the center of the Broadway production of Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out, now playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre after getting its start at The Donmar Warehouse last summer and the Public Theater last fall.
While this production proves problematic, its story of a major league baseball superstar who comes out of the closet and (unintentionally) wreaks havoc on his team and the sport itself remains interesting, with Greenberg's writing still riddled with humor. What is most clear on Broadway is that the story is really about the search for identity - each of the play's characters, major or minor, is searching for the truth in himself and those around him.
Yet on Broadway, Take Me Out no longer seems to know the best way to achieve its goal of presenting these points. Off-Broadway, the show's messages were couched in equal parts passionate love for the National Pastime and an examination of the difference between society's perception and reality. The importance of identity was almost an afterthought, yet undeniably crystal clear, focus and compact despite running three hours, with two intermissions. Director Joe Mantello had concisely laid out and staged it all so it worked.
Mantello's staging has remained more or less the same. There have been a few changes - mostly logistical, dealing with the move from the Public's thrust stage to the Walter Kerr's proscenium, which has allowed set designer Scott Pask to turn the theater itself into a baseball stadium. Still, Mantello and his designers (including Jess Goldstein for costumes and Kevin Adams for lights) have maintained the physical look of the production as well as anyone has a right to expect, adapting the staging for the new space so that, physically, the show never feels lost in the bigger space.
Dramatically, however, it's a different story; the transfer has robbed the play of the intimacy that, Off-Broadway, it never knew it needed. Despite the success of the transfer as a staging, the impact of many of the smaller events in the play has been greatly lessened. Basically, the show's size hasn't changed, but the production's has. This might be beneficial if Take Me Out were a more traditional sports story, but it doesn't focus on the Big Game the central team needs to win. Of more interest to Greenberg are the personal, private foundations that make the bigger moments happen. Take Me Out is not a big play, but a small play with a couple of big moments; it's too small for the Walter Kerr.
In contrast, the previous show to play in the Walter Kerr, David Auburn's Proof, felt bigger and fuller, like it needed (and was able to use) the space. Like Proof, Take Me Out focuses primarily on four characters - the now openly-gay baseball player Darren Lemming (Daniel Sunjata), his business manager and new baseball convert Mason Marzac (Denis O'Hare), Darren's friend and teammate Kippy Sunderstrom (Neal Huff, also the show's de factor narrator), and the socially ignorant John Rocker-like relief pitcher Shane Mungitt (Frederick Weller) - but surrounds them with so much filler, they frequently seem insignificant in their surroundings.
It doesn't help that most of the performances have also not grown in size from the Public. Sunjata remains cockily effective as the egotistical Darren, Huff's affable intelligence is still clear, Weller's simple-minded nastiness comes across fine, and Kevin Carroll's projected affectation as Darren's closest friend (on an opposing team) still helps set up some dramatic arcs in the play nicely. But none of these performances fill the space, none seem to command the theater the way we're expected to believe they command the baseball field.
There is one notable exception. O'Hare was always saddled with a difficult role as Greenberg's onstage mouthpiece who discovers the joys of baseball and just needs to proclaim his newfound love to the world, but was able to infuse his insecure New York-type with a likability and childlike sense of whimsy that, Off-Broadway, made the character work. O'Hare's work on Broadway is even more meticulously crafted, bigger, and even more centered than what he did Off-Broadway. His performance has the energy and size that every other performance in the production needs; in short, he has become not only the play's comic anchor, but it's dramatic anchor as well.
But if O'Hare unbalances the show through necessity, the baffling decision to present Take Me Out - a three act play - in two acts is more damaging still. The show has been rewritten slightly - a few scenes trimmed and clarified, resulting in the removal of 10-15 minutes or so of material - but is still presented in three clearly delineated dramatic units. Removing the second intermission robs the play's climactic scene of its gut-wrenching effect and mutes everything that comes after. A reconfiguring of this type for no real positive effect or reason does this production - like Our Town earlier in the season - no favors.
A tiny play in a big house, a three act play performed in two acts...
Somewhere between the Public and Broadway, part of the play was lost. In
becoming greater, Take Me Out has become lesser, though it remains humorous
and, when O'Hare is closely involved, soaring, moving, and even inspiring.
But now it lacks the pulsing vitality and sense of truthful purpose that
made it a home run hit Off-Broadway. The play would be better served if
Mantello and company had embraced the play's structural and emotional truth
that the characters in the play - for better or worse - can never ignore.