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Theatre, Music, etc.
EVENINGS OUT

 

EVENINGS OUT
February 22, 2008

Coming out on the diamond

A powerful, stripped-down drama in a major league locker room

Cincinnati--Take Me Out was the Broadway phenomenon of 2003. Richard Greenberg’s play won a slew of Tony awards and, reportedly, the film rights were snapped up by Ben Affleck.

While the Hollywood version remains in development, Take Me Out has been making the rounds of regional theaters and even some college programs.

New Stage Collective in Cincinnati is currently producing the play, its second Ohio appearance. Dobama’s production in Cleveland sold out last year.

Take Me Out is a unique tale by Broadway standards. It is part comedy, part drama focusing on professional baseball. Inserted into that very traditional, very macho world are the politics of race and sexuality.

Darren Lemming is a star player with the New York Empires. Part white, part black and all gay, he decides at the height of his career to come out to his team and the world at large. Lemming is a self-confident egomaniac and doesn’t believe that he will suffer any repercussions for his bold act.

The story of what ensues proves just the opposite. It’s not that Lemming has any issues with what he has done, it is the rest of his team and the world outside that simply doesn’t know what to do with this straightforward act of honesty.

The team players are in a bit of a tizzy--all their presuppositions about gay people are thrown out. Simple rituals like changing clothes and showering together begin are fraught with uncertainty. But this is all in their minds, not based on anything Lemming does. Worst of all, this psychodrama in the locker room shows up on the field in a string of stunning losses.

Enter a pitcher, Shane Mungitt, who is brought in to save the day by putting the team back on a winning streak. Mungitt, from somewhere in the South--even he’s not sure where--can throw the ball like a beast and can pitch racist and homophobic invectives with equal deadliness. When Mungitt makes some horribly hateful remarks to the press about the race and sexuality of his teammates, the world of the Empires begins to explode.

Several side stories make the play even more interesting. While Mungitt’s family background--or lack thereof--is stereotypical, it makes the villain seem sympathetic, at least temporarily. A friendship that Lemming shares with another black player on an opposing team provides the fodder for some of the grittiest drama in the play.

Lemming’s friend Davey Battle is deeply religious, a so-called family values man. Lemming’s sexuality doesn’t sit well with him--homophobia can also be the province of people who understand other forms of oppression.

A subplot involving Lemming and his money-manager Mason Marzac is both hilarious and poignant. Marzak, who is also gay, learns to love the game of baseball in ways even he never thought possible.

It would be crazy to talk about Take Me Out without mention of its copious nudity. The play does, after all, take place largely in a locker room. Greenberg doesn’t shy away from the rituals of showering, dressing, undressing, towel-snapping and all.

But the nudity never seems exploitive. Those stripped down bodies, at their most vulnerable, allow us to get at truths in new and interesting ways.

New Stage Collective’s production replicates the play as Greenberg had intended, shower room sequences and all. Given the tight space in which they perform, director Brian Isaac Phillips’s troupe do exceptionally well keeping the play moving and keeping us riveted.

The performances are all good. Justin McCombs as Kippy, Lemming’s best friend on the team and the narrator of the play, provides a solid voice that holds all the disparate story lines together.

Ken Early as Battle, Lemming’s homophobic friend, projects a self-righteousness and holier-than-thou fascism that is eerie and scary.

Standouts include Alex Brooks as Shane Mungitt who explodes with unknown depths of rage. Charles William Clark as Mason Marzac turns in a full-blown performance that is a joy to watch. Effete and flamboyant, insecure and nerdy, Clark’s Marzac is the comedic and humanitarian glue that holds this piece together.

Alan Patrick Kenny, the producing artistic director of New Stage Collective, spoke with me about their production of Take Me Out.

Kenny calls this play “a love letter to baseball” that happens to touch on the explosive issues of race, gender and sexuality. “It’s a play I have loved for many years,” he said. “It’s an incredible piece with an amazing story and an amazing sense of language, an eloquence you would not normally expect in a jock play.”

Kenny said that he was also drawn to the humanity and truthfulness of the play. He said that he doesn’t normally like nudity on stage unless it has some meaning. “If it illuminates the story, then that’s great,” he explained, “and this play does it in spades.”

As an openly gay producer and artistic director, Kenny said that he is aware of trying to do plays as part of the season that reflect voices that need to be heard.

When I asked him how he chooses his plays, he answered with, “I look for plays that scare me and that need to be told in Cincy.” But he also says that ultimately he is “an artist, not a politician.”

Take Me Out is definitely worth seeing, not only because of New Stage Collective’s stripped down yet powerful production, but because the play entertains while projecting a powerful polemic on the nexus of sexuality, celebrity and sports in this country.

Take Me Out is playing Friday through Sunday until March 9 at New Stage Collective, 1140 Main Street, Cincinnati. For tickets or more information, go to www.NewStageCollective.com or call 513-6213700.

 

 

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