Also see John's review of MotherSON
Baseball has been touted as America's favorite pastime. The smell of hot dogs and peanuts, the crack of the bat, the singing of the national anthem, the adulation of the crowd, and the excitement of the game provide an overwhelming sensory experience. We make heroes of the players who take us away from our everyday lives by elevating the game of baseball, or any sport, to something almost magical. The title of the play has a few different meanings. The first is the obvious reference to the song "Take Me Out To The Ball Game." A second meaning is that, like other beloved sports, baseball takes us out of our potentially boring and predictable lives. A third meaning becomes obvious as the show unfolds.
Most of the play is set in the locker room of a fictitious, professional baseball team called the Empires. The play's main character, Darren Lemming, is a biracial baseball player at the peak of his career and on top of the world. As the star of the team, and the current golden boy of baseball, he seems unable to do wrong. But his whole world changes when he announces publicly that he is gay. Though he confidently states that he is a loner, he can't help but notice that his teammates begin to become wary around him. Team morale begins to suffer as friend Kippy Sunderstrom is the only fellow teammate to show genuine support. Any attempts to make Lemming feel affirmed by the others come off as clumsy and ignorant. Lemming struggles to maintain his revered, god-like identity in the midst of mayhem.
A silent and brooding rookie pitcher from the minors named Shane Mungitt is added to the team. In a post-game interview after an outstanding performance, Mungitt lets fly with a string of offensive racial and homophobic comments. The fact that these hate-filled views are revealed as simply personal truths rather than intentionally harmful comments is alarming. The team continues to work out their issues individually and as a whole during Mungitt's subsequent temporary suspension. Lemming finds unexpected friendship with his quirky, flamboyant business manager, Mason Marzac, and he sadly faces the harsh reality of losing longtime friend and fellow player Davey Battle. An unforeseen event results in tragedy when Lemming's team plays Battle's. We watch the men examine the extent to which their prejudices consciously motivate their seemingly uncontrolled actions.
In the late 1970s, Glenn Burke, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics, was the first major league baseball player to come out to his teammates and team owners during his professional career. Thirty years later there have been considerable strides in the public acceptance of homosexuals in a variety of fields. Still, one wonders if baseball fans would rather see their favorite player confess to using steroids, having a drinking problem or betting on the game before being a homosexual.
The Rising Action Theatre turns in a surprisingly solid production of Take Me Out. Though some of the actors are a bit older than most baseball players, the performances are quite good. Darren Lemming is played by handsome Laris Macario. He has enough confidence and charm to carry the part without being too cocky to be sympathetic. He also gives us just enough of a connection to the character of Mason Marzac to let us believe that there could potentially be something more between them. Marzac is played by Ted Dvoracek, who whips through lengthy dialogue with comedic deftness. His fussy, nervous energy earns him entrance laughter more than once. Though Terry Cuzzort is a bit old for the role of Shane Mungitt (who is twice referred to as "a kid" in the script), he captures the desired simple roughness of the role. He is quietly menacing. Mungitt is someone best left alone with his thoughts. Cuzzort gives us a believable anger that results from being prodded to open up. Larry Buzzeo as Kippy Sunderstrom does a nice job with the narrative nature of his role, but is missing a tangibly affectionate connection to Lemming.
While there are good cameo acting moments by supporting actors in the show, such as Louis San Luis as Kawabata, Take Me Out is by nature an ensemble piece. There were some lighting issues on the night attended, but the technical aspects of the show serve the show well enough in this small space. Filled with nudity and coarse language, it is a realistic portrayal of the world of baseball behind the scenes. This production in three acts is well worth seeing for the performances and for Greenberg's intelligent writing.
Tony Award winning American playwright Richard Greenberg is the author of over twenty-five plays, which include The Violet Hour, Three Days of Rain (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award and Olivier, Drama Desk and Hull-Warriner nominations, Pulitzer Prize finalist), and The Dazzle (Outer Critics Circle Award, and Lucille Lortel and John Gassner nominations). His acclaimed adaptation of August Strindberg's Dance of Death appeared on Broadway starring Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren.
Take Me Out will be appearing at the Rising Action Theatre through October 4, 2009. The Rising Action Theatre, Inc. is located at 840 Oakland Park Blvd. in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. It is a small professional theatre hiring non-Equity performers. The Rising Action Theatre is dedicated to promoting and educating the public in diversity and tolerance for all people through theatre arts. It presents plays with multi-cultural themes, and works of social relevance. For season information and tickets you may reach them by phone at 954-561-2225 or 800-595-4849, or line at www.risingactiontheatre.com.