Take Me Out is Richard Greenbergís award-winning play about a major league baseball player who outs himself and pays a mighty price for his honesty. Set in and around the locker room of the Yankee-inspired team, the Empires, the play promises more than it delivers.
Darren Lemming is a bi-racial superstar who outs himself and offers no apology for the media chaos that ensues. He appears impervious to the jibes of his team members and to the public at large. The truth is that Lemming is on to his own strengths ñ he is handsome, famous and wealthy and that is a hat trick of mega-proportions. But the grace note of his success fails to sustain itself and events turn nasty. By the end of the story, Lemming is still standing, but whether he is stronger for what he has learned is never made clear.Ý
This production, at the Bluma Appel Theatre, designed by Ken MacDonald and directed by Morris Panych, is very sleek. The scenes slide nicely one into the next, and the suggested changes of location are evoked in Paul Mathiesenís lighting design. But the look of the piece cannot make up for a glibness in the text that overtakes the more serious themes with which Greenberg struggles. Itís a good struggle that he has taken on, but he cannot resist his own ability to make more jokes when fewer would probably reveal more of the charactersí lives.
Greenberg also relies on a narrative device that is, at best, predictable. Kippy Sunderstrom, one of the players, is the eveningís narrator. He speaks to us repeatedly in order to keep us up-to-date with events. But the flashback storytelling wears itself out and the events, however dramatic they may have been when they first occurred, lose their heat. What this production really has going for it, however, is the performance of Matthew MacFadzean in the role of Kippy. He makes the repeat ìvisitsî to the downstage centre spotlight far more welcome than the text itself. His combination of easy charm and unforced passion is the eveningís only fully-fleshed characterization.
Elsewhere, Thom Allison is a hollow-sounding Lemming. He poses as an athlete but never gets beneath the surface of his uniform. And his scenes with friendly rival Davey Battle (Dion Johnstone) require actors who can create a fire that these two cannot ignite. Mike Shara, playing a southern cracker with a wicked pitch, rightly underplays the clichÈs that he has been given and he rises to a quiet climax in the playís weakest scene, an interrogation that asks us to willingly suspend all credibility as the playwright does his best to create a Big Moment.
The single non-baseball player in the cast of characters is Lemmingís business manager, Mason Marzac.Ý As he grows from indifferent observer to madly passionate fan, he expounds on the metaphor of baseball-as-life. This is a lovely moment in the play and David Storch handles it with comic skill. Itís a shame, however, that Storch has provided Marzac with so many tics and twitches. He is so fussy in his caricaturization that by his final scene we donít much feel for him.
In fact, by the final curtain we have invested very little emotional energy on the play or the players. Perhaps this is due to Panychís ponderous pace in the many two-character scenes, all of them set in a similar tempo, and maybe this is due to the fact that Greenberg, for all his skill, has crafted a play that is more fascinating in thought than in deed.