Reviewed by Will Stackman
Pooling their resources, two of Boston's best small theatres, the Speakeasy Stage Company and Boston Theatre Works, have mounted a first-class production of Richard Greenberg's 2003 Tony winning "Take Me Out" as the season closer in the new Roberts Studio at the BCA Calderwood Pavilion. With help from Broadway In Boston through its former president, Tony McLean, these two award-winning BCA companies have lived up to their reputations. Speakeasy's artistic director, Paul Daigneault directs a completely believable roster of mostly local talent, including 2004 IRNE winner Neal A. Casey, whose comic timing is unsurpassed, as Mason Marzac. As the hero's gay accountant, a lonely outsider drawn into the world of baseball, in this case that of the established champions, the Empires, Casey's a perfect choice. No one else in town could carry off a hesitant one-man "wave." Playing Christopher "Kippy" Sunderstrom, an older player who functions as the play's main narrator, hard-working Nathaniel McIntyre provides the inside story. Both actors were seen last fall in Stoneham Theatre's elegant N.E. premiere of Greenberg's "The Violet Hour", with McIntyre as the romantic lead opposite his own wife, Stacy Fischer. Casey played Gidger of course. He got his IRNE, however, for his role as the younger brother in Greenberg's "The Dazzle" which Stoneham did in winter 2004.
The central figure in "Take Me Out" is the Empire's bi-racial slugger, Darren Lemming, played with panache by NY film and TV actor, Ricardo Walker, who captures the charm, style, and aura of invulnerability of a superstar with a comfortable background. Christopher Brophy, who appeared at Stoneham in "As Bees in Honey Drown" and "Of Mice and Men", plays the other extreme, a sullen fastball pitcher from a rural southern broken home, brought up from the minors. This unfortunate rube precipitates the tragic action of what starts out to be a comedy about coming out. Ricardo Engermann, who played the cop in "Our Lady of 121st St." for Speakeasy last season, is Davey Battles, Lemming's conservative friend and rival star from a lesser team, who becomes the victim of the situation. The consequences of personal decisions on the lives of others is the final theme. The only one exempt from blame, however, is naif Marzac.
Daigneault's supporting cast is equally proficient. Samuel Young as Japanese pitching ace Takeshi Kawabata breaks out of his light comedy roles, many for the Theatre Coop, with a solid performance, mostly in Japanese, learned by rote and very convincing. Robert Najarian as boobish Toddy Koovitz gets to play the first nude scene. A member of the faculty at B.U.Theatre, he's also the show's fight choreographer. Bill Molnar, who appeared in BTW's "The Tempest" as the King is convincing as the Empire's professionally sympathetic manager, and also has a cameo as a frustrated fan trying to be understanding writing to support Lemming. "But it's baseball!" Paul Ricardi, who specializes in solo shows, plays Jason, a new young catcher, in awe of the situation, but rather clueless. Richard Rodriguez, a bicoastal actor is perfect as Rodriguez, done almost entirely in Spanish, while polylingual Achilles Vatrikas plays Martinez, his first role in Spanish. The whole cast has their baseball moves down pat, from their own experience and perhaps a little coaching from McIntyre, who played four years of college ball.
To set this multiscene show, which has more action that the author's previous works, Norton winner Eric Levenson frames his abstract ballfield with in welded steel reminiscent of outdoor lighting supports, on which are mounted about half the show's actual lighting. Lockers roll in and out to move inside to the club house, otherwise a few pieces of well chosen furniture define each new setting. Of course, there's also the working shower built into the frame, which will be hard to top in future local productions. Multiple award lighting designer John R. Malinowski surrounds the show with fluid and effective lighting, including a bank of upstage center floods which silhouettes key moments. Gail Astrid Buckley's street clothes for the various characters are apt as usual. The Empire's uniforms, pinstripes of course, quite authentic. Ryan Powers ,for his first Boston show, provides a comprehensive sound design to help set and transition from scene to scene.
Greenberg's work has been well represented locally. This show's assistant director, Nancy Curran Willis just did a well-received suburban production of "Three Days of Rain" with the Quannapowitt Players. And as noted, Casey and McIntyre appeared in lavish productions at Stoneham. "Take me Out" is also currently having its Chicago premiere, and it's rumored that a new Greenberg script may appear there soon. Boston will be waiting. Or perhaps some local company will resurrect "Everett Beekin." This present large cast effort is certainly worth Speakeasy and BTW's joint effort, despite quibbles about the script's rather simplistic--or is it commercial--approach to the problem of entrenched homophobia and the fragility of human relations in conflict with a demanding goal. The question of personal choice and unforeseen consequences, Darren's, Davey's, and even Kippy's are merely displayed, not really explored. But this cast has one "f*ck" of a season doing so, as the unprecedented extensions shows.