Take Me Out
Also see David's review of Into the Woods
And who better than a Boston Red Sox fan to accept playwright Richard Greenberg's contention that "baseball is a perfect metaphor for hope?" American literature has a whole subsection devoted to baseball writing, and the "baseball as democracy" monologue that kicks off with that phrase is right up there with the best.
In fact, when I saw the Broadway production two years ago, that passage - delivered by Tony Award winner Denis O'Hare like an 11 o'clock number in a musical - was the only thing that really gripped me. (Well, that and the full-frontal nudity viewed from my vantage point in the third row.) The rest was about as satisfying as the home team heroes flying out at bat and racking up errors on the field.
It's the same play, but this production is a better realization. It's more even-handed and manages to make what was written (and published) in a three-act form palpable as a double header with a single seventh-inning stretch. Neil A. Casey as gay accountant "Mars" Marzac still eloquently gives voice to Greenberg's own mid-life baseball infatuation, but does it without having to steal the show. Ricardo Walker as God-like superstar Darren Lemming is still the cipher at the center of the play who precipitates events with his sudden revelation that he's gay, but he so fully embodies the narcissistic character that it doesn't seem as necessary that he (or we) understand why he does it.
Director Paul Daigneault keeps us focused enough on narrator Kippy Sunderstrom (Nathaniel McIntyre) that we fully grasp his culpability for the tragic events that follow. We can also better pick up on the misguided intentions of illiterate redneck pitching machine Shane Mungitt (Christopher Brophy) and the not-so-compassionate Christian superstar on the other team who ends up the true victim (Ricardo Engermann). And we even catch how the subtle change in Lemming's relationship with the stalwart team manager (Bill Molnar) opens another tiny crack in the baseball hero's impenetrable fašade.
The dim-witted fielder (Robert Najarian), shy rookie catcher (Paul Ficciardi), intense Japanese pitching star (Samuel Young) and pair of Hispanic ballplayers (Ricardo H. Rodriguez and Achilles Vatrikas) who speak only to each other are all sketchily drawn by Greenberg, presumably there only to provide comic relief or color commentary when there's a lull in the action.
This production is a handsome one, with sets by Eric Levenson, lights by John R. Malinowski and costumes by Gail Astrid Buckley, but tricky to fit effectively into the shallow playing space of the Roberts Studio Theatre. The first image of the team in victory stance is a compelling one, but the subsequent representations of a game on the field would benefit from a more stadium-like configuration of the space and a bigger boost from sound designer Ryan Powers.
These are minor quibbles, however, with a production worthy of a World Champion baseball city and a proper ending to the already distinguished 2004-2005 seasons of both Boston Theatre Works and SpeakEasy Stage Company.
Take Me Out now through June 11th at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston's South End. Performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 4pm & 8pm and Sundays at 3pm (May 1, 8, 12 & 22) and 7pm (May 29 & June 5.) There is no 4pm performance on Saturday, May 28th. Tickets are $35.00 - $40.00 depending on the performance with a $5 discount for seniors and students. Student Rush is also available for $10 with a valid college ID, at the box office only, one hour before curtain, subject to availability. The BCA box office phone is 617-933-8600. To order tickets online visit: www.BostonTheatreScene.com.