1 hit, a lot of balls

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

TMO_Show_StillsArnold

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

Softball coaches accused of outing E. Texas teen

Trial set for January after federal judge rules privacy claim can move forward in court

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Skye Wyatt

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

TYLER — Before Skye Wyatt’s softball coaches outed her as a lesbian to her mother in 2009, she was a straight-A student who loved going to school, Wyatt alleges in court documents.

Then a 16-year-old sophomore at Kilgore High School in East Texas, Wyatt wanted to continue playing softball and maybe even become a coach.

But after coaches Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell locked Wyatt in a locker room on March 3, 2009 — where they allegedly threatened and interrogated her, before kicking her off the team and outing her to her mom — Wyatt said she became depressed and anxious.

“I had trouble sleeping,” Wyatt wrote in a sworn statement dated Oct. 3, 2011. “I even cut myself and contemplated suicide. My grades went down, and I started skipping school.

“As a result of Ms. Fletcher and Ms. Newell telling my mom I was gay, she and I didn’t speak for months,” Wyatt wrote. “Our relationship was totally destroyed for almost two years. It was incredibly difficult for me to go through all of the pain of being outed and kicked off the softball team without feeling close to my mom.”

In December 2010, Wyatt and her mother, Barbara, filed a federal lawsuit against Fletcher, Newell and the Kilgore Independent School District, accusing them of violating her privacy.

Last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Love, of the Eastern District of Texas, denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in the case, which is now set for trial in January.

Wayne Krause, an attorney with the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project, which is representing Barbara and Skye Wyatt, called Love’s decision to deny summary judgment “a huge victory.”

Krause said it marks the first time a court in the 5th U.S. Circuit — which covers Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — has identified a constitutional right to privacy for sexual orientation information.

“It’s one thing to say that conduct by LGBT people can’t be criminalized under the Constitution,” Krause said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned the state’s sodomy ban. “It’s another to say there’s an explicit constitutional right to have information about sexual orientation be kept confidential.”

Attorney Robert S. Davis of Tyler, who’s representing the defendants, downplayed the significance of Love’s 23-page decision.

“I think the court found that there were some contested fact issues, and that’s fairly common, so we’re ready to go to trial on it and think we’ll get a good result,” Davis said.

In court documents, the defendants allege that Skye Wyatt had been openly gay for several years and never attempted to keep her sexuality secret.

They also argue that the coaches had a legitimate interest in revealing Wyatt’s sexual orientation to her mother, because they were concerned about her safety. The coaches said they believed Wyatt was in a potentially illegal relationship with an 18-year-old named Hillary Nutt.

But the plaintiffs responded that if the coaches thought Wyatt was in an illegal relationship, they should have reported it to law enforcement, not her mother. The defendants also note that the school district doesn’t routinely investigate heterosexual relationships between 16- and 18-year-olds.

Instead, the coaches were merely retaliating against Wyatt and trying to intimidate her, the plaintiffs allege. The coaches believed Wyatt had started a rumor that Nutt was Newell’s ex-girlfriend and that the coach herself was gay.

According to the original lawsuit, Fletcher and Newell called an unscheduled team meeting on March 3, 2009. The coaches dismissed the rest of the team before leading Wyatt, identified as “S.W.” in court documents, into a locker room and locking the door behind them.

“Fletcher asked S.W. if she was gay, and accused her of having a sexual relationship with another girl. She also claimed that S.W. was spreading gossip about this other girl being ‘Coach Newell’s girlfriend,’” the suit states. “The girl to whom Fletcher was referring had interacted with Newell at a number of school events. At the time of Fletcher and Newell’s confrontation, S.W. was dating that girl.”

When Wyatt denied the allegations, the coaches reacted angrily, threatening to sue her for slander and making menacing gestures. “S.W. was very afraid, and feared they might strike her,” the complaint states.

After Fletcher and Newell finally allowed Wyatt  to leave the locker room, they promptly phoned Barbara Wyatt and asked her to meet them at the field.

When Barbara Wyatt arrived, the coaches told her that her daughter was a lesbian and gave her the phone number of the girlfriend.

The coaches kicked Skye Wyatt off the softball team, but lied to other players by saying she had quit, according to the lawsuit. Their actions resulted in “severe mental and emotional anguish, resulted in social isolation, and robbed her of the freedom to deal with her sexuality privately, at her own pace and on her own terms.”

Barbara Wyatt eventually filed a complaint with the school district’s superintendent, who dismissed it saying that the coaches were “legally obligated to share this information with the parent.”

“In other words, KISD’s policy mandates that teachers disclose students’ sexual orientation to their parents,” the suit alleges.

“Discrimination, bullying and the infliction of emotional trauma against students who are gay or believed to be gay is a nationally recognized problem,” the complaint states. “Defendants’ actions and policies exacerbate this problem and set a very harmful example to students, teachers, and parents in Kilgore ISD.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Who’s Tommy?

Tommy
TAP, DOG | Tommy Tune’s new act traces his legendary Broadway career — and it all began in Dallas.

Maybe you think you know gay  stage icon Tommy Tune, but even he’s still learning things about himself

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STEPS IN TIME

Fair Park Music Hall, 901 First Ave. March 15–20. $20–$75. DallasSummerMusicals.org.

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When I get Tommy Tune  on the phone for the first time, I finally get to tell him about my three Tommy encounters: One was on Broadway when he appeared in My One and Only; one was in his one-man show Tommy Tune Tonight! at Fair Park Music Hall; but the first time was in the locker room of the Watergate Hotel where we were both staying. He was changing clothes after a swim. And I confess to him my 30-year secret: That I saw his naked ass.

“How’d it look?” he hoots with an excited cackle. “Great!” I tell him. “Well, you know dancers,” he says with a flirtatious laugh.
This dancer just turned 72 — a number that rather delights Tune: “If you add together 7 and 2, it equals nine. And nine has always been a lucky number for me.”

It has indeed. Tune directed and choreographed the original stage musical Nine, and has won an astonishing nine Tony Awards in four categories over his 50-year stage career — a career that launched, in several ways, here in North Texas.

“I began at the Dallas Summer Musicals,” says the Texas native, whose sister still lives in Fort Worth.“I got my Equity card there. John Rosenfield, who was the king of culture [in Dallas for decades], reviewed my first professional job in Redhead with Taina Elg. In the last paragraph of the review, he wrote: ‘We cannot let this report pass without mentioning Tommy Tune, who handles his incredible long form with grace control and power.’ That was the energy that sent me to New York. I had the courage after that. And I just linked that up.”

Where he links that up is in his new one-man showcase, Steps in Time, which opens Tuesday on the same stage where Tune got his start.

“Everything I do in Steps in Time is the truth,” says Tune. “I’ve done four acts and this one is the most personal and the purest and it works better than the others. It doesn’t have the glitz, but there’s depth.”

It’s also a work in progress. Tune has performed it about 100 times so far, but often in one- or two-night stands; he’ll be in Dallas a week, and the version includes new material he’s only recent added. It also has the added bonus of getting him back to his Texas roots.

“I still like to get my feet in the Texas mud, which is different than all other muds,” he says.

Tune kicks off his show with his arrival in New York on St. Patrick’s Day 1962. His beginnings were auspicious: He auditioned for a show and got the job on the spot. That led to dozens  more shows as an actor (Seesaw, which won him his first Tony), director and choreographer (Grand Hotel, Nine, The Will Rogers Follies). But he’s loathe to choose a favorite experience.

“I’m gonna have to answer the next one will be my favorite,” he says. “Every show I’ve done, I’m not satisfied with. But there is a sense of dissatisfaction that keeps you marching.”

Still, he coos about many of the talents he’s worked with over the years. Raul Julia “was a dream.” With Julia and Keith Carradine he recalls “not one bad moment. It’s so easy for an actor to give a director problems. Actors can be quite contrary. But these two guys worked for the good of the show.” And there was the great Vaudeville hoofer Charles ‘Honi’ Coles, whom Tune co-starred with in My One and Only and who “was the best dancer that I ever worked with. He taught me more than anybody. And when I worked with him he was 76, so he’s still got a few years on me.”

Tune recounts one joyful memory about appearing with Coles: They performed a number together — a charming soft-shoe — that on opening night led to a tumult of uncontrollable applause. It literally stopped the show.

“I was just gobsmacked,” he says. “I leaned over to Charles and said, ‘What should we do?’ He smiled up and said, ‘Let’s do it again.’ So I just broke the fourth wall like you don’t do and said, ‘Let’s take it again from the top of the dance.’ We did it! I just thought, ‘That’s opening night — everything’s up for grabs.’But we did over 1,000 performances together and we never failed to stop the show — it happened every night! It’s when that magic thing happens, when the audience takes control of the show, that you love like theater.”

Which is exactly what Tune didn’t enjoy about one aspect of his career: Making movies. Tune kicked off his film career with a prime role opposite Barbra Streisand in the Oscar-nominated adaptation of Hello, Dolly! but he quickly soured on Hollywood.

“I hated making movies,” he says. “My whole thing is about the audience connection. In movies, you are not performing for the crew but for a machine — the camera — or yourself. It was just so unfulfilling. You never get the joy of performing a number. After Hello, Dolly! they put me in a couple episodes of Nanny and the Professor but I was burning to be back on Broadway. I asked them, will you let me out of that deal? Off I went, and fast!”

And he’s still returning to it — as a performer, director and a patron. His favorite recent shows? Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and American Idiot.

“Those are my two favorites. And it worries me that neither has found their audience but both speak to now, but work through then. [The lead in Andrew Jackson] is so good, I saw it four times. It made me laugh so hard. Maybe it was a mistake that they moved it to Broadway, but it was better than the off-Broadway version. They really sharpened it. American Idiot is highlight. I was new to Green Day — I don’t usually do anything more contemporary than the ’50s — and they just knocked me out. I’m so grateful I’ve got to do this with my life. But we need to still be respectful of our fabulous invalid called the theater.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Lawsuit: High school softball coaches in E. Texas outed lesbian teen to her mom

Two high school softball coaches in East Texas are accused of maliciously outing a sophomore player as a lesbian to her mother, then kicking her off the team.

And Kilgore Independent School District officials are accused of defending the coaches’ actions by arguing that they were “legally obligated” to disclose the girl’s sexual orientation to her parents.

The student, identified as S.W., and her mother have filed a federal lawsuit against the coaches, the school district, and an assistant athletic director, accusing them of violating her privacy. The student and her mother are represented by the Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project in the lawsuit filed Dec. 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

The lawsuit alleges that the two coaches at Kilgore High School, Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell, locked S.W. in a locker room in March 2009 and threatened and interrogated her. The coaches allegedly were angry because S.W. was dating a girl whom Newell may have previously dated.

“Fletcher asked S.W. if she was gay, and accused her of having a sexual relationship with another girl. She also claimed that S.W. was spreading gossip about this other girl being ‘Coach Newell’s girlfriend,’” the lawsuit states. “The girl to whom Fletcher was referring had interacted with Newell at a number of school events. At the time of Fletcher and Newell’s confrontation, S.W. was dating that girl.”

—  John Wright