By Richard Greenberg
Directed by Joe Mantello
Walter Kerr Theatre / 219 West 48th Street / (212) 239-6200


Reviewed by David Spencer

[Upon seeing the Broadway transfer of "Take Me Out", which played for a limited run last season at the Public Theatre, I found that my feelings were largely the same as they had been before. So rather than write an entirely new review, I've duplicated, below, my original notice…followed by a brief postscript discussing the changes.]

Original Off-Broadway Review

I was only a little chagrined that my lady friend, no more a sports enthusiast than I, was able to identify the real-life sports figures being fictionally alluded to (if not genuinely or with biographical intention portrayed) in "Take Me Out", Richard Greenberg’s new play set in the world of major league baseball. For once the story really kicked in (which is almost immediately) I was just too immersed to feel out of the loop. This is a very interesting play, whose romance with the game is persuasive and, for most of its 2:45 playing time (including two intermissions), even a tad infectious.

The inciting event in it is a public announcement made by the star player of the Empires, Darren Lemming (Daniel Sunjata) that he’s gay. Lemming has that easy mixture of media-friendly cool and arrogance one associates with, say, a Bryant Gumbel–no hostility, but no uncertainty; no offense, but no warmth (and yes, he is black as well, which also figures into the story). For all intents and purposes, and for all we ever learn with certainty, this is a matter-of-fact judgment call; he means merely to relieve himself of the burdens of "covering" and press speculation so everybody can just get on with the business of baseball. There is no indication that his self-image is in doubt, nor that he has political motives or anger or any other agenda aside from the convenience he, as a peerless pro, can afford. But one wonders if he can be all that innocent of the kind of chain reaction his coming out will provoke: the media response, his teammates’ reactions, the subsequent public statements that bespeak both sensitivity and downright bigotry–such as those of Ozark-raised teammate Shane Mungit (Frederick Weller).

Add to the roster of main characters a childhood buddy playing for a rival team (Kevin Carroll), the best-friend teammate who narrates the tale for us (Neal Huff) and a gay business manager (Denis O’Hare) newly assigned to Lemming’s account–for reasons all-too-transparently obvious–who begins to fall in love with the game and its (to him) fascinating underlying philosophies…and you have a literate and unique dialectic about social issues in a fresh milieu.

The production, further, is marvelously cast, all the actors giving performances that are definitive, and under the direction of Joe Mantello, both the ensemble work and the much touted locker-room nudity flow naturally and without sensationalism.

The drawback, which doesn’t diminish the evening’s theatrical fascination, does, though, keep it from scoring a home run, and that’s this:

You’re not altogether sure what Greenberg’s getting at. Is it a play about inevitable consequences? If so, our hero would have to have the prescience of Nostradamus to call the domino fall dramatised here. Is it about personal responsibility? If so, tying it into a man’s right to "come out" leaves too much gray area for any moral conclusion (or even speculation) to be ultimately meaningful.

The only thing that makes any thematic sense start to finish is–and I’m just guessing here–if Greenberg’s drama is somehow a game in metaphor; an opening pitch that leads to a series of plays whose outcome cannot be predicted, but whose strengths and weaknesses lie in the passion of the players–the true friend (team player), the dangerous colleague (grandstander), the opposing team…and the fandom.

That makes "Take Me Out" a spiffy enough "page turner" of a play…but as the arguments and positions peter out, that also makes Act Three something of an aimless wrapup. After all…how do you keep score…?

Broadway Transfer Postscript

In the interim between off-Broadway and Broadway, "Take Me Out" has undergone some small changes: for one, it is now performed in two acts rather than three. And though its natural points of climax still describe a three act evening, it has been streamlined such that the post-intermission "game," though featuring Acts Two and Three performed in a single go, does not feel long. In the streamlining too, the play as a play, seems more to the point. It seems not so much about consequences any more, but rather a very savvy essay about communication: about the language that disparate people can have in common (in this case sports; in another circumstances it could be sex, or religion, or art), and the places outside that language where relationships fall apart. It's easier to keep score now…because the points of identification are cleaner, clearer and more universal. And the "play" doesn't get much better than that…

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