Take Me Out
Also see Sharon's review of Monster
Having seen Take Me Out on Broadway, I was expecting something somewhat different from the Geffen Playhouse production, currently playing at the Brentwood Theatre. Richard Greenberg's story of a baseball hero's announcement that he is gay was memorable not so much for the fallout from that announcement but for Denis O'Hare's award-winning performance in the supporting role of Mason - a business manager who, when assigned the ballplayer's account, falls hopelessly in love with baseball.
While Jeffrey Hutchinson's portrayal of Mason certainly sparkles with the joy of a nerdy non-athlete finally discovering the beauty that exists in a sport, Hutchinson isn't quite as show-stealing as O'Hare was. Ultimately, Hutchinson is only one of four actors who lead this ensemble expertly through Greenberg's script, resulting in a more even production.
Terrell Tilford plays Darren Lemming, the bi-racial, multi-talented ballplayer loved by all, whose coming out sets the play in motion. Greenberg has written Darren with an edge; he frequently mocks people who are lesser than he (and who isn't?), and he gets a kick out of making people feel uncomfortable around him. But Tilford plays Darren without malice; a smile nearly always plays on his face, and he frequently gives Darren's jibes a gentleness that makes him downright likeable. So that when things go wrong - and they do go wrong - the audience feels sympathy for Darren, even though he's the type of person who would disdain our sympathy.
Darren's best pal is Kippy, the intellect on the baseball team. Jeffrey Nordling's Kippy has a speech pattern that is very nearly melodic. Much of the first act of the play involves Kippy and Darren reflecting on their lives, their positions in the world, and the effect of Darren's announcement. Greenberg's dialogue is frequently funny, sometimes perceptive, and very nearly always smart. Both Tilford and Nordling have no trouble at all playing educated ballplayers who are anything but dumb jocks.
The dumb jock in the piece is Shane Mungitt, an uneducated hillbilly with a good arm (well, one good pitch) who joins the team late in the season to provide a little relief pitching. Jeremy Sisto plays up Mungitt's slowness - this is a man whose lips actually move when he's thinking - and he makes it easy to believe that Mungitt is so stupid, he'd actually say the racist and homophobic things he says that take the play into a totally different realm in the second act.
Although Mungitt's comments galvanize the play - changing it from a smart comedy about where everyone puts their eyes when they shower, into a much more serious drama - they also mark the beginning of the downhill slide of Greenberg's script. What was once smart and comic becomes heavy handed. The concept of an outwardly prejudiced individual on a baseball team is, sadly, not too distanced from reality and certainly a reasonable topic for a drama. However, once Greenberg has posed the problem, he has a hard time writing himself out of it. The play gets very serious very fast, when it doesn't have to do so. And the script twice relies on someone being someplace they absolutely would not be in order to tell the story it wants to tell.
Take Me Out could be a wonderful play about small relationships between people who are larger than life. But it instead tries to be bigger in scope, and it uses a sledgehammer where a scalpel is called for, and that ultimately diminishes the work.
The Geffen Playhouse production of Take Me Out continues at the Brentwood Theatre through October 31, 2004. For information, see www.geffenplayhouse.com.
Brentwood Theatre - Martin Markinson; Richard Willis; Erinn Tobin, General Manager - and Geffen Playhouse - Gilbert Cates, Producing Director; Randall Arney, Artistic Director; Stephen Eich, Managing Director - present Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg. Scenery by Eric Larson; Lighting by Daniel Ionazzi; Costumes by Christina Haatainen Jones; Original Music and Sound by Karl Fredrik Lundeberg; Production Stage Manager Lisa J. Snodgrass; Assistant Stage Manager Michelle Magaldi; Casting by Phyllis Schuringa. Directed by Randall Arney.