WaterTower’s “‘Take Me Out’ tries hard but fails to take home the pennant
On paper, “Take Me Out” should be a home run: hot-button issues (gays in sports!), scintillating stagecraft (male frontal nudity!), heady, thoughtful discourses on baseball-as-metaphor. But Richard Greenberg’s play about an All-Star who comes out of the closet mid-season fails to hit every bag as it rounds the bases.
As the star player for the New York Empires baseball team, Darren Lemming (Butch Anderson) is an all-around athlete, who has kids clamoring for an autograph. When he decides to suddenly out himself (for reasons never made clear), the fans generally support him. But his teammates start a clubhouse revolt. (Almost every character is a ball player, which keeps the action insular and constricting.)
“Take Me Out” is a premise in search of a structure. Greenberg seems to have come up with his ideas and dialogue before his characters: “I play on your team which is not to say I play on your team.” “It’s like a Hallmark card with sodomy.” “I’m not enlightened, Darren I pride myself on that.”
Greenberg also thinks the script is funnier than it is.
The cart-before-the-horse mentality gets magnified in the character of Darren. Anderson, who plays the arrogant fly in the ointment, mumbles stiffly through the first act, not really hitting his comfort level until the middle of Act 2. But even if his performance were flawless, his character simply doesn’t ring true.
Darren is gay in name only, never kissing or cooing with another guy, expressing any political or social beliefs and not even dressing the part. (Brown shoes with black slacks? Carson Kressley would have a coronary.)
Like a designated hitter in the American League, he serves a function without being fully integrated he’s more plot point than person.
“Take Me Out” is a writerly play in the most dubious sense. Greenberg seems less concerned with creating believable characters than with clever remarks in the mouths of actors. Darren casually uses terms like objets d’art but seems befuddled by the idea of giving to charity, and say “amateurization” instead of “amortization.” Too many lines make good points but sound out of place, striking a sharp discordance in the believability of a scene.
WaterTower Theatre’s production, directed by Terry Martin, employs dim overhead lighting to indicate play on the field and moves the shower so far upstage as to diminish the urgency of a key scene.
Most of the cast members have little to do other than strip down, mime pitching and hitting, and bristle with hostility. Darren’s best friend, an equally revered opponent named Davey Battle, is sabotaged by actor Darius Warren, who lingers over his lines as if they are being spoken from on-high. But two other actors Clay Yocum and Ted Wold make it worthwhile.
Yocum, a squat, blocky, shockingly shaved-headed actor whose intensity could bake a potato from 40 feet, seems to be acting in a totally different play. His slow-drawling redneck pitcher, who shakes up the clubhouse even more than Darren, comes across as far more sympathetic than Greenberg apparently intended. (Darren and his best friend, Kippy, are almost insufferably condescending toward him and most of their other teammates, for that matter.) Yocum is an edgy actor, who brings a sense of danger to the stage which helps quench the audiences’ hunger for excitement.
Wold’s role couldn’t be more different than Yocum’s: As Darren’s giddy financial planner, he provides the comic relief, but does so in a refreshing way. Wold has frequently been funny on stage his voice has a gruff squeakiness to it, like Lou Costello after 20 years of chain-smoking and gin. But this is something altogether different for him. There’s a joy to Wold’s performance rarely seen from him, an effervescent abandon that’s infectious. His speeches about the metaphysical delights of baseball are the best things in the show.
Despite its flaws, “Take Me Out” is not a play that can be simply dismissed. Greenberg deserves credit for writing a play (even a deficient one) that puts important topics about homosexuality and team sports at the fore. The sentiments sound predictable and worn. But there’s a delight in hearing them spoken.
WaterTower gets props for staging such a controversial play in the suburbs. “Take Me Out” is a production worth seeing just not for the obvious reasons.
Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. Through June 18. Wednesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. $20-$30. 972-450-6232.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, May 26, 2006.