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Theatre, Music, etc.
EVENINGS OUT

 

EVENINGS OUT
August 24, 2007

 

Out in the locker room

What would happen if a major-league ballplayer came out?

Ah, the locker room mentality. Such an interesting phenomenon: Men acting more or less like they are gay, as long as it’s completely understood that none of them are gay.

How else do you describe the towel-snapping, ass-patting camaraderie that goes on between athletes?

About the only thing that could change such behavior would be to actually drop a gay man in the middle of that milieu. It is almost certain that those guys would behave differently after that.

The question is, exactly how much of an effect would an active, openly gay top-tier athlete have on the locker room?

Richard Greenberg’s Tony Award-winning Take Me Out examines that question. Running through September 9 in a Dobama Theater production at Cleveland State University’s Factory Theater, the three-act play examines how coming out publicly at the height of his success affects ballplayer Darren Lemming (Michael May), who, like his namesake, comes awfully close to a precipice.

Playing for the world champion Empires, star player Lemming takes a conversation with his best friend, opposing player Davey Battle (David Lemoyne) as impetus for coming out of the closet at a press conference. Battle talks to him about being true to yourself, about being a good person and honest.

Battle himself is a God-fearing, one-woman man with three kids. He’ll have a beer in public to “keep up appearances,” but he’s far from the typical professional athlete/party boy.

His very public pronouncement has an immediate and debilitating effect on team morale, as well as their ability to “close” the game, so they call up minor league pitcher Shane Mungitt (Fred Maurer), a dyed-in-the-wool hillbilly whose brain works slightly more slowly than his mouth, which is far from quick.

All Shane wants to do is throw the ball, but being the Empires’ new closer means that, at some point, a reporter will shove a microphone in his face and start asking questions. When he answers them, however, he illustrates all the biases and prejudices lurking below the surface.

Caught in the middle, trying to play peacemaker, is Kippy Sunderstrom (Phil Carrol), hailed by Lemming as the most intelligent man in baseball. He’s certainly one of the most intelligent characters in the play, but with the failing of most very intelligent people: He believes that he understands. He thinks that he understands Shane, he understands Darren, he understands what has gone wrong with his team.

He also narrates much of the play, guiding the audience through how he believes the problems started, each time correcting himself. Something as simple as X couldn’t have started that avalanche, could it? Perhaps Y was the culprit, maybe even Z . . .

In addition to an entire baseball team and their coach, along with a good friend on another team, there is one more character to lend insight, Mason Marzac (Caleb Sekeres).

Marz, as he is soon nicknamed, takes over handling Darren’s finances when his former investment manager retires. Mason is also a little starstruck, being a gebbish (gay + nebbish = gebbish) who is now working with the most famous gay man on earth.

It is through Mason’s eyes that Darren learns about the positive ramifications of his decision, the counterbalance to the negatives that he finds every day with his peers in the locker room.

In the end, the play is a story of death, destruction, rebuilding and acceptance, told by a skillful playwright.

Of course, no play can really make it without the labors of the cast, crew and director, which leaves the question: How is Dobama’s production?

Directed by Scott Plate, who so marvelously portrayed the titular character years ago in Cleveland Public Theater’s production of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, it is a safe bet that Take Me Out is in good hands. An assistant professor of musical theater at Baldwin-Wallace College, he seems to have brought the entire department with him (the male students, at least; there aren’t any female roles) and it has served him in good stead.

Phil Carroll, Fred Maurer, Ryan Jagru as Rodriguez, Javar Parker as Martinez and Vincent Martinez as Takeshi are all excellent. Martinez’ ability to go on an emotional rampage in Japanese and still have an audience understand the underlying emotion is magnificent, especially considering that the two Latinos and the Japanese guy are all supporting characters. Their presence onstage most definitely adds to the experience, and lesser actors would likely have disappeared into the wallpaper.

Sekeres’ interplay with May works beautifully, both in their verbal sparring and in the sheer physical differences between them. Watching Mason stand up to Darren while telling him how important his visibility is must be akin to watching David talk smack about Goliath’s mother.

As the “villain” of the piece, for lack of a better word, Maurer is heartbreaking. He is both victim and victimizer, unable to be himself in a play about being true to oneself. All he wants to do is throw a ball, and nobody, it seems, will let him just throw that ball. The tragedies he stirs are not really as much his fault as that of the people who expect more from him that just throwing that ball.

The cast is uniformly excellent, and the play alternates between rapid-fire, witty dialogue and deep emotion almost effortlessly. At times Greenberg’s dialogue is a bit too rapid-fire, almost schticky, but Plate’s direction and the actors’ abilities pull it off.

There is another, all-encompassing character in the play, and that is the set itself. Making use of the size of the Factory Theater, it is a small baseball diamond in the middle of the room. By two of the bases, there are small sets of lockers, each filled with a few things to give an indication of character. It should be noted that Darren’s contains four books, whose juxtaposition is both telling and hilarious.

This is not a detail that comes out in the performance, however. The production is in the round--although it should be called theater in the diamond, since the seats are along the base lines. During the intermission, audience members can wander from locker to locker, seeing what’s inside, adding just that little extra insight.

Looming over the pitcher’s mound is the centerpiece of the show: a working communal shower. It is lowered on ropes for the trio of shower scenes.

It’s very interesting that Greenberg and Plate found a way to litter the stage with naked men without it being gratuitous. Party was completely gratuitous, but Take Me Out is not. There is a reason for the nudity, extensive as it is.

Perhaps the only drawback to the play is the number of times the title song is heard. Coming in and going out, there it is. If you’re not a fan of the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” you’ll despise it by the time the play is over.

That’s a pretty minor criticism from such a quietly ambitious undertaking, one would think.

Take Me Out, directed by Scott Plate, plays Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $22 for Friday and Saturday shows, $17 for Thursdays and Sundays. There is a $2 discount for students and seniors citizens.

Cleveland State University’s Factory Theater is at the corner of East 24th and Chester Avenue, and parking is available off East 24th. For tickets or more information, call 216-9323396 or go to www.dobama.org.

 

 

 

 

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