Review: In "Take Me Out", which team are you on?

It’s not for nothing that Darren Lemming, the fictional centre-back for a team called the Empires, is also at the center of ‘Take Me Out...


It’s not for nothing that Darren Lemming, the fictional centre-back for a team called the Empires, is also at the center of ‘Take Me Out’, Richard Greenberg’s gay fantasia about the national pastime.

Considered a “five-tool player of incredible grace that he made you suspect there was a sixth tool”, Lemming even surpasses Derek Jeter – on whom he is to some extent modeled – in terms of versatility , stability and the kind of arrogance which, stemming from excellence, is added to charisma. He’s a natural baseball star and, when he decides to come out as gay, a natural irritant for drama.

To his favorite, “take me out”, which opened Monday in a beautiful revival at the Helen Hayes Theater, is a five-tool play. It’s (1) funny, with an unusually high laugh density for a thread that’s (2) serious enough and (3) cerebral without detracting from its (4) emotion. I don’t know if (5) counts as one tool or many, but “Take Me Out” gives meaty roles to a team of actors, led in this Second Stage Theater production by Jesse Williams as Lemming and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as his entrepreneur fanboy.

Admittedly, dropping a few flies along the way and throwing some wild pitches — pardon the baseball metaphors, which the game indulges in with a convert’s zeal — makes “Take Me Out” a little confusing in places. It’s not the kind of work that benefits much from post-game analysis, which reveals flaws in construction and logic. But in performance, now no less than in 2002, when it made its New York debut at the Public Theater, it is above all delicious and provocative. Perhaps especially for gay people, it’s also a helpful corrective to feelings of estrangement from a necessary sport.

By this I don’t mean baseball itself, but the examination of masculinity through its lens. In “Take Me Out”, Lemming’s announcement that he is gay, prompted by no scandal and involving no lovers, is essentially a pretext for a dissertation on masculinity. What he finds in the locker room, where the Empires change, shower, break towels and bicker, is as hopeless as what he finds on the pitch is always hopeful and good.

Connecting them, Lemming is a figure of divine mystery. His purely technical skills aside, he’s the kind of person, as his teammate Kippy Sunderstrom (Patrick J. Adams) enthusiastically describes, whose mess doesn’t “sink.” Lemming assumes that whatever he does will be for his benefit, and that unlike most people for whom coming out is all-important, his homosexuality will be just another “irrelevance” in his life, as being handsome and biracial.

What he didn’t count on was how, for his teammates, the revelation dulls his aura of perfection while exposing cracks in their less than perfectly sealed psyches. Their nudity now seems different to them, which is why the public is also invited to take this into account. (But not the rest of the world; customers are required to put their phone Yondr Pouches to prevent photography.) No matter how well built, a man who wears nothing is inherently defenseless.

As a result, the Empires, once on course for the World Series, begin to lose cohesion and, soon after, games. Homophobia springs from dark places in the souls of other men; even Lemming’s closest friend, Davey Battle, a religious man who plays for an opposing team in more ways than one, breaks away. And, with the arrival of Shane Mungitt, a pitcher called up from the minor leagues, confusion erupts in an act of shocking violence.

Yet “Take Me Out” isn’t just about this descent into chaos on the playground; it is also, in the story of the entrepreneur, Mason Marzac, the elevation of the spirit in this same place. Marzac, the kind of gay man who feels he doesn’t belong in the straight world or even the gay community — “I’m outside of them. Maybe below them,” he says – is overjoyed when Lemming, his new client, walks out. In this act, he sees the possibility of reintegration into the mainstream of Americanness and soon develops a manic interest in the game.

That his new fandom is mostly a way to redirect an impossible crush doesn’t make it any less significant; this kind of sublimation can indeed be an unspoken of many sporting fads. Ferguson renders this feeling readable in a softer and less biting version of Marzac than that created by the brilliant Denis O’Hare, who won a Tony Award for the 2003 Broadway production. Ferguson brings out Marzac’s wound in a wonderfully detailed comedic performance that’s nonetheless full of nostalgia and unexpected elation.

But if Lemming and baseball pull Marzac out of his shell of protective pessimism — one of the many meanings contained in the title’s grand slam pun — Marzac also pulls Lemming out of his shell of distance. Oddly enough, it’s this element, the most fantastical in real life, that seems the most believable on stage, and only partly because the locker room drama, which involves too many obvious tension devices as well as too many goons, s crumbles slightly as the story develops. . A late scene added for this production, between Lemming and two policemen, doubles this problem.

But as Lemming and Marzac form a bond — not romantically but not without tenderness either — the ideas Greenberg is juggling, about integration on the ballpark and integration of the psyche, are paying off in full. Williams, a stage newbie but longtime star of the TV series ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, explains how the glamor of the gifted can keep them from living their lives to the fullest; may be the apparent ease of his own career gives him a glimpse of the drawbacks of being too easy.

Under the self-assured and lively if visually lacking direction of Scott Ellis, the other cast members make excellent utility players, moving quickly between moments in the spotlight and groundwork as members of the team. In particular, Michael Oberholtzer, as Mungitt, seems to disappear into his damaged self when he’s not spouting bizarre biographical bits or hate. And as Battle, Brandon J. Dirden, fresh off a stellar turn as a factory foreman in “Skeleton crew“, gives a performance perfectly engraved at the other end of the spectrum, finding in his faith a morality which exceeds even love.

It’s actually Battle who unwittingly sets the plot in motion, telling Lemming that in order to be a full human, he should want his “whole whole to be known”. Ultimately, “Take Me Out” is about the danger the challenge poses to some people — a danger that others may not know about. Yet, Greenberg shows us, it is crucial for happiness, and not just for homosexuals, even if it introduces immense difficulties. A game doesn’t have to be perfect to be won.

take me out
Through May 29 at the Helen Hayes Theatre, Manhattan; 2st.com. Duration: 2h15.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: In "Take Me Out", which team are you on?
Review: In "Take Me Out", which team are you on?
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