Take Me Out Scores Big at Seattle Rep
Greenberg's funny, surprising and moving script takes place in the milieu of big-league baseball, but one needn't be a baseball aficionado to embrace its characters or the message it sends. Greenberg employs flashbacks in his telling of a wild and crazy season for the fictional New York Empires ball club, which culminates in tragedy. What precipitates said tragedy is hot, young biracial ballplayer Darren Lemming coming out of the closet at the height of his career. The tale is told by Lemming's fellow ballplayer Kippy Sunderstrom, a likable, well-meaning sort who considers himself Lemming's best pal on the team but can't foresee the consequences of championing the cause of a red-hot pitcher, Shane Mungitt, whose redneck upbringing, bigotry and loose mouth portend disaster. Lemming's stuffy, gay business manager Mason Marzac, who becomes a raging baseball fan and eventually Lemming's confidante, is the fourth major player in the story, and undeniably the most skillfully wrought character on the stage. Director Mantello virtually recreates his slam-bang Broadway staging and taut pacing, with a new cast that generally seems the equal of the original ensemble.
T. Scott Cunningham is thoroughly engaging in the role of Mason Marzac. Even taking into account what a fabulous character Greenberg has written, Cunningham brings a blend of warmth and comic timing to the part, making Mason his own special creation. Doug Wert as Kippy seemed a bit distracted at times on opening night, but generally delivers a well thought out characterization of the kind of guy who works a little too hard to be everybody's buddy. As Darren Lemming, M.D. Walton brings a quiet intensity and slow-simmering undercurrent of anger and frustration to his depiction of a big celebrity. By outing himself, he has caused serious repercussions for himself and those around him.
Harlan George manages to earn some audience sympathy in his portrayal of the basically reprehensible Shane Mungitt, and Charles Parnell scores, with less onstage time, as Davey Battle, a player for a rival team whose relationship with close friend Darren unravels after Darren comes out. Charlie Kevin as Toddy and Terrence Riordan as Jason earn solid laughs as two of the dimmer bulbs on the Empires roster, and Jack Davidson paints his character of team manager Skipper as an outwardly amiable father figure who still knows that business is business. Robert Wu as Kawabata, a Japanese national playing for the Empires, is quietly effective as he maintains his ruse of not speaking English, when in fact he knows exactly what is going on, with Ramon Fernandez and Gene Gabriel's brooding Latino ballplayers Martinez and Rodrigues completing the lineup.
Most of the actors in the play appear fully unclothed in the baseball locker's shower scenes. The nudity is anything but gratuitous, and most of the opening night audience was primed for it. I noted a few walkouts, but I doubt that most audiences coming to see Take Me Out would arrive unprepared for this.
Scott Pask's scenic design, complete with working showers, is as spare and effective as it was on Broadway, complemented by Kevin Adams' accomplished lighting design and Jess Goldstein's excellent costumes. When it seems harder and harder to fill the seats in our theatres, take it from this non-sports fan and catch Take Me Out at the Rep while you can. Contemporary theatre doesn't get much better than this.
Take Me Out runs through December 4, 2004 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St. in Seattle Center. For more information, visit the Rep's web-site at www.seattlerep.org.