Baseball is the all-American blank slate, and Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out draws a dazzling array of ideas, jokes, poetry, meanings and tragedies large and small all over it. It celebrates baseball because people find something to celebrate in baseball, and it sees America’s triumphs and woes reflected in it because other people do. In the stunning and brave production at 1st Stage under the direction of Doug Wilder, we can understand why this play won the Tony for Best Play (in 2003): it turns the most self-mythologizing of American sports inside-out and finds America in it anyway.
The story is centered on that most exceptionally timely of American sports events – a player coming out to the public as gay. Darren Lemming (Jaysen Wright), the bi-racial golden boy, as confident and deft in conversation as he is on the baseball diamond, shocks everyone with his announcement, seemingly as much because the attention complicates his persona as because of attitudes towards homosexuality.
Greenberg traces the responses to this as they trickle outward from Lemming, flowing through comedy and drama. Some of Lemming’s teammates are suddenly, painfully self-conscious being naked in the locker room with him. Lemming’s teammate and best friend, “the smartest man in baseball” Kippy Sunderstrom (Sun King Davis) wants simply to comprehend this new side of his pal, while Lemming’s oldest friend Davey Battle (Devyn Tinker) may be at odds, religiously speaking, with the revelation.
The story bears the most fruit exploring the effects that Lemming’s announcement has on two polar opposites. First is Lemming’s new financial advisor and accountant, Mason Marzac (Adam Downs), a cheerfully geeky gay man too dweeby to have found acceptance in the gay community himself. It is he who provides a significant portion of the play’s humor and earnest rhapsodizing about the deeper meaning of baseball as a “perfect metaphor for hope in a Democratic society” among other things.
Second is Shane Mungitt (Ryan Kincaid), a man with some serious prejudices who is, simply speaking, not smart enough to understand why they are wrong. It is through him that the story spirals on from its snappy and optimistic beginnings to the dark and confrontational depths of tragedy near its end – all before ending on a bright note, again, thanks to Marzac.
Here we have, in all its scope, just about every issue of modern American life besides those that involve women (no female characters appear in this boys’ game). Besides sexuality, of course, we have race, and religion, and immigration (Japanese-recruited pitcher Takeshi Kawabata, played by Jacob Yeh), and money, and company loyalty, and the public eye, and fandom, and culture clash, plus good-old fashioned love and friendship and rivalry.
It may seem, given that breadth of genres and topics, that this would be a difficult story to tell – but however challenging it may have been, the cast makes it look as natural as pro baseball players do. Not a false note is sounded by anyone, not in the moments raunchy or intense, nor when the characters step forward to address the audience in long, eloquent monologues.
Wright is completely believable as the culture hero who refuses to admit to any weakness even after negative reactions to his coming out pile up, and then finds his own vulnerability without ever once seeming diminished. Davis locates his character in the space where intellectualism and athleticism meet, making Sunderstrom, the brainy athlete, somehow a relatable everyman and our guide through the story. Kincaid’s single-minded Mungitt is perhaps the boldest performance, given the number of unfortunate words his character has to spew with guileless conviction.
But it is Down’s Marzac that brings the shining heart of the play to life. His portrayal of Marzac as the most enthusiastic and sincere of true believers – at once utterly lonely and totally comfortable with his outsider self – is a constant delight. I could go on through the entire cast, given how effectively and subtly they all convey themselves as ballplayers brought together for reasons as varied as money, ego and love of the game to be emotionally and literally naked in a locker room together.
TAKE ME OUT
Closes October 12, 2014
1525 Spring Hill Road
Tysons, VA 22102
2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission
Tickets: $15 – $28
Fridays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
It never feels strange when Davis or Downs step forward to speak to the audience, perhaps because the vulnerability and performances in the locker room don’t seem that different from ones on the stage before the audience. As moving, painful, and entertaining as a ballgame – where someone, of course, must lose so that another can win – 1st Stage’s production is a revealing peek into the locker room of America.
Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg . Directed by Doug Wilder . Featuring Sun King Davis, Jaysen Wright, William Aitkin, Tim Torre, Ray Navorio, Devyn Tinker, Adam Downs, Ryan Kincaid, Steven Soto, Adrian Vigil and Jacob Yeh . Set design: Ruthmarie Tenorio . Lighting design: Jane Chan . Sound design: Neil McFadden . Prop design” Deb Crerie and Kay Rzasa . Technical dire tor: Aaron Fensterheim . Stage manager: Joseph Michael Jones . Produced by 1st Stage . Reviewed by Brett Abelman.