1 hit, a lot of balls

Though not a perfect game, ‘Take Me Out’ scores in the bottom of the 9th

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DESIGNATED HOTTIES | The shower scenes are steamy, but the interpersonal dynamics between ballplayers (Kevin Moore and Lloyd Harvey) run the bases in ‘Take Me Out.’ (Photo by Mike Morgan)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a first act can fool you.

Act 1 of Richard Greenberg’s play Take Me Out, is, quite simply, not very good. The exposition is lazy, the central conflict (intentionally kept close to the vest) twee, the dialogue on the stilted side. Aside from the much-hyped locker-room nudity — and this is not a comment on the actors’ bodies — there’s not much “there” there.

Then comes Act 2, and Take Me Out opens like a lily with the breaking dawn.

In Uptown Players’ current production, the second is nearly twice as long as the first, but it crackles with energy. Greenberg’s “floating narrator” device almost works, and the non-linear storytelling begins to make sense. And there’s more nudity. Nothin’ wrong with that.

Take Me Out is a buzz-worthy play, flesh aside: Set in 2002, it’s the story of Darren Lemming (Lloyd Harvey), a Major League Baseball player — the best in the pros (suggestively modeled on Derek Jeter back when there were rumors of his sexual orientation) — who at the height of his skills comes out. Putatively, the play deals with the fallout from that announcement, but really, it doesn’t. Almost all the characters are inside the clubhouse; we get only a faint sense of the public reaction (which, we all know, would be a shitstorm). Instead, being gay is used as a catalyst for the interpersonal dynamics within the dugout.

The societal element is a missed opportunity — Darren would be mobbed with talk-show requests; we’re owed at least one sit-down with Oprah — and the gay idea could be almost anything (he could have come out as atheist or Muslim or Communist, it hardly matters). But eventually, you get caught up in the story, especially the conflict between Darren and Shane Muggitt (Andrews Cope), an illiterate redneck brought up from the minors, and his financial advisor “Mars” (Art Kedzierski), a flamboyant gay man intoxicated by his newfound love of baseball.

Darren himself is a difficult character to parse; he’s arrogant though we are constantly reminded universally loved; that seems unlikely, especially for Mets fans. He’s, in turn, incredibly savvy and unbelievably naïve, smart then a dolt. Harvey eventually settles into a rhythm, though there are moments that waver.

There aren’t any with Kedzierski, who’s hilarious and touching, and really, the emotional touchstone for the audience. He’s the first person onstage who seems specific, not just a metaphor for some principle or a utility character serving a dramaturgical function. Kedzierski’s enthusiasm infects the play, carrying over to scenes he’s not even in. Cope’s take on Muggitt as more imbecile than bigot is a canny, almost daring one (as Tropic Thunder cautioned, “ya never go full retard”). Kevin Moore, as the principal narrator, adds depth to a sketchy character.

Andy Redmon’s set, suggestive of a baseball diamond, makes a great nod to an outdoor game set entirely in the confines of a locker room, and Michael Serrecchia’s direction makes the most of the weaker parts of Greenberg’s script.

Not every game has to be won on a home run, as long as you get a few hits and run the bases. Way to hustle, guys. Now hit the showers.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 10, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Triangles: ‘The Descendants’ and ‘Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1

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Alexander Payne is both the most aptly-named director and the least accurate: His movies are all about people enduring a fair share of pain, but his default reaction is to find humor in that. It’s a great skill, of course, but one that he beats like a drum. So when his newest, The Descendants, works its story around a husband and father (George Clooney) faced with the twin tragedies of a wife in a coma and discovering she has been cheating on him … well, sometimes pain just needs to be pain. (Payne also loves the “road trip” plot, here and in Sideways and About Schmidt; I wonder if he would even know how to make a movie set in a boardroom.)

But if The Descendants traffics in familiar territory, at least Payne knows how to paint portraits of people that ring true. Certainly Clooney — proudly showing his age as a salt-and-pepper middle-aged dad juggling his own parental ineptitude and obligations as the family patriarch — brings the proper balance of heft and comic sensibility to the role of an emotionally detached man grappling, for the first time, with the realities of connecting with other people. Come to think of it, that describes just about every other movie Alexander Payne has made. He might not show much variety, but at least he knows his limitations.

The romantic triangle in The Descendants is between two men and a dead woman; in Breaking Dawn, Part 1 — the latest in the Twilight saga — it’s between a dead man (well, actually vampire Robert Pattinson) and another man (well, werewolf Taylor Lautner) and a woman (well, actually Kristen Stewart, who I think may be part mannequin). In this, the fourth film in the series, I think I may have finally figured out what I’ve missed all this time that every teenaged girl seemed to understand intuitively: The supernatural element is extraneous to the slow-moving romance between Bella and Edward (and the puppy-dog longing of Jacob). It’s kind of the point that nothing much happens over its two hours — if it did, it might shake you from your swoon.

A new director, Bill Condon, imposed a horror-film sensibility on all the treacle, giving us both the longest wedding sequence since The Godfather and the most harrowing childbirth since Rosemary’s Baby.  If you can stomach author Stephanie Meyers’ didactically anti-abortion subtext — and can accept how Lautner keeps his shirt on most of the time — Breaking Dawn is actually the best entry in the series to date. Go figure.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas