Review: ‘Take Me Out’
Performance Network stages major league hit
When most gays and lesbians decide to “come out” – that is, when they choose to reveal their sexual orientation to the people around them – the news rarely makes front-page headlines. And while the revelation might stun or anger the individual’s family, friends and co-workers, its shockwaves are unlikely to become the topic of conversation around water coolers throughout the civilized world.
But what if you’re a much-beloved star athlete at the peak of his career who decides to become the first-ever professional baseball player to reveal his homosexuality? What reaction should the superstar EXPECT the news to generate? And what happens when his fantasy and reality collide?
Although the story told in the Tony Award-winning “Take Me Out” is dark and tragic, the production currently on stage at Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre is anything but. In fact, the knockout performances by several of its cast members are among the brightest and most powerful seen on the Network stage all season!
In “Take Me Out” – a title that has numerous meanings besides the obvious – Darren Lemming is at the top of his profession: The young, black and oh-so confident star of the Empires baseball team is adored by his fans, slobbered over by the media and pretty much gets to rule the roost in the locker room. And with a multi-million dollar contract, he’s also very rich. So why shouldn’t he come clean and announce his homosexuality at an impromptu news conference? What’s the worst that can happen, the pampered prince thinks to himself?
Well – surprise, surprise! – many of his teammates are now uncomfortable being naked with him in the showers. And that uneasiness quickly translates into a string of losses for the team that, until then, was securely fixed in first place.
But it’s not until relief pitcher Shane Mungitt is brought up from the minor leagues that Darren’s trouble really begins.
An unusually quiet and barely literate young man from the Deep South, Shane shocks his teammates during a post-game interview when he nonchalantly talks about having to get used to working with “coons, spics and faggots.”
Such epithets don’t sit well with the team – nor with the league that suspends him. The boiling point is reached, however, when the bigot is eventually allowed to return to the team – the tragic results of which could never be predicted.
It’s no secret that gossipmongers throughout the theater and LGBT communities had a field day after Performance Network announced “Take Me Out” as the final show of its 2004/05 season. Would the producers shy away from the script’s in-your-face male nudity? Could they find enough athletic-looking, young male actors to pass as professional athletes? And how convincingly would they handle their bats?
Oh, ye of little faith!
The nudity is there, all right, and plenty of it – although it’s as natural as I’ve experienced in any locker room. (However, even with all the advance publicity, the nudity STILL seemed to surprise several audience members on opening night. Or were the very audible gasps when actor Jon Bennett first stepped on stage “au natural” signaling something else?)
But to be totally honest, the Network’s actors aren’t the buffest baseball players I’ve ever seen – naked or otherwise. (But rest assured: There’s still plenty of eye candy for you voyeurs to ogle!) However, most ARE totally convincing in their roles, and that’s far more important to the success of this production!
Playwright Richard Greenberg unfolds his story through Darren’s best friend on the team, Kippy Sunderstrom, who makes it abundantly clear he loves Darren, but in a manly, hetero sort of way. It’s a role to which David Wolber brings great sensitivity and pathos.
Quite intense and on the mark is Brian Marable who plays Davey Battle, Darren’s long-time best friend – and a devoutly religious family man. Watch Marable’s eyes and everything you need to know about his character will be revealed!
Not quite as successful is Jason Layden as Darren. The character – at least initially – demands a larger-than-life, totally self-assured, cocky-but-lovable persona, something Layden doesn’t quite achieve. He shines, though, in Darren’s more introspective moments – and especially, later, when the situation intensifies.
Wilde Award nominee Darrell Glasgow accomplishes what for many other actors would be an impossible task: He breathes sympathy into an unsympathetic character. Rather than play Shane Mungitt as nothing more than a hateful, redneck bigot, Glasgow shades him with many layers of humanity. It’s an amazing portrayal from start to finish!
The heart of the show, however, resides in the spectacular performance of Ray Schultz as Darren’s recently appointed financial guru, Mason Marzac. A quiet, gay man with no life outside his balance sheets, Mason discovers within himself a love of life that didn’t exist before baseball – and Darren – entered his lonely little world. There’s not a shred of stereotype within Schultz’s energized performance; rather, it’s a joyous road to discovery that well-earned the thunderous applause he received at show’s end on opening night!
Direction was provided by a unique blending of talents: It was neither a Jim Posante show nor a Tony Caselli production, but a very interesting combination of the two. (Posante suffered a heart attack after the first few weeks of rehearsal and was replaced by Caselli.)
The set – and showers – by Joshua Parker worked well, as did the lighting design by Mary Cole.
“Take Me Out” Staged Thursday through Sunday at Performance Network Theatre, 120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor, through Aug. 28. $24.50-$34.50. 734-663-0681. http://www.performancenetwork.org.
The Bottom Line: It’s not tough to “eloquate”: Take yourself out to Ann Arbor this summer for a spectacular evening of theater at Performance Network!