‘Steamy’ baseball drama comes out at Performance Network

By | 2018-01-16T17:34:30-04:00 July 21st, 2005|Entertainment|

ANN ARBOR – “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” might just be Artistic Director Carla Milarch’s motto these days. For neither a director’s heart attack nor upset subscribers have stopped Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre from hitting the stage – or rather, the locker-room floor – this week with previews of its much-anticipated baseball-themed production, “Take Me Out.”
“This is a really important play, “Milarch said of the 2003 Tony Award-winning drama, “particularly because it’s not afraid to go into dark areas and explore dark themes. If we see something that needs to be seen and is a little bit controversial, we’re the ones who are going to put it on our stage. We pride ourselves on that; we don’t shy away from them here. It’s right up our alley”
Written by Richard Greenberg, “Take Me Out” addresses a topic that continues to percolate throughout the world of sports: What would happen if a popular, highly regarded “star” athlete came out of the closet while still playing on a major league team? For pampered superstar baseball player Darren Lemming, it’s a rude – and shocking – awakening to the realities of life in a diverse society!
The controversial drama has been generating plenty of enthusiasm – and sparking many eager debates – within both the state’s LGBT and theater communities ever since it was announced last year.

And not only because of the show’s considerable male nudity!
However, darkness descended on the stage much earlier than anticipated when a heart attack benched Director Jim Posante earlier this month after only two weeks of rehearsal. Although Posante is expected to make a full recovery, Milarch immediately put on her producer’s hat and launched into “crisis mode” to find a replacement director. It was a search that took one phone call and less than 24-hours to complete.
“My mind at that point jumped straight to Tony Caselli because he and Jim are very close and have worked together a lot over the course of the past 10 years. I know Jim trusts Tony, and I trust Tony. He’s sort of the consummate theater director in my opinion, so I knew that he would have the skills to be able to jump in and transplant himself into someone else’s rehearsal process with little or no waves being crossed. It’s been a smooth transition,” Milarch said.
Spending his summer with several naked men was quite possibly the last thing on Caselli’s agenda, but the highly respected – and straight – director gladly accepted Milarch’s offer. “Directing any show is a challenge,” Caselli said, “but this is a different kind of challenge. This was me going, ‘Sure, Carla, I can take over. Can I pick up a script and read the play?'”
What initially helped Caselli accept Milarch’s offer – besides his friendship with Posante and Performance Network, of course – is his love of baseball. “There’s a lot in this play that is simply a love letter to baseball. That’s the part of [the show] I knew coming in.”

Now, however, it’s the relationships among the show’s various characters that he finds intriguing. “You get pulled in by these people. Some of them you love, and some of them you don’t. But even in not loving them, you feel for these people. One of the themes that keeps hitting me is that people have to talk – it’s a line you’ll hear a few times. We can THINK we know what’s going on [with someone], but with just about every relationship in this play, it clearly shows that you really DON’T unless you ask.”
Ticket sales have already been brisk – “Take Me Out” now ranks as the Network’s all-time top advance seller – but not everyone is embracing the controversial show. “There’s always that little faction of people that don’t want to support these types of shows,” Milarch noted. “We have subscribers that didn’t subscribe to this show, and we’ve had a couple people say, ‘Shame on you for doing male nudity.’ So yes, we’ve taken some heat for it already.”
Actors Ahmed Muslimani and Scott Norman have other concerns, however: They’ll be among the actors dangling more than participles during the show.
“That’s partly what attracted me to the play,” Muslimani said of the nudity, “because it’s sort of that last hurdle to strip yourself of any self-awareness on stage. If I can be naked on stage and not be afraid of it, it’ll be one more thing that I’ve accomplished.”
Norman isn’t quite sure yet how he feels about appearing naked on stage in front of his family and friends – with but one exception. “My fiancee wants to bring her mother!”
As with any drama, “Take Me Out” has its fair share of comedy. “People will be pleasantly surprised by how much they’ll laugh during the show,” Milarch concluded. “Plus, there’s going to be a lot of steam. It’s going to be steamy!”

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