Take Me Out

By Richard Greenbergtake-me-out-7259

Directed by David Belew

Produced by Eclectic Full Contact Theatre Company

A Complex Character Study with a Backdrop of Gays in Sports

With the first openly gay male athletes in top professional leagues having recently come out, Eclectic Full Contact Theatre Company has decided to revive Richard Greenberg’s Tony-Award winning 2002 play Take Me Out. It’s an interesting revisit because of how contemporary it feels, thanks to the richness of the interactions between the main characters.

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The story is narrated by Kippy Sunderstrom (Charlie Rasmann), the bookish-type on a top ranked baseball team called The Empires (a transparent gloss for the Yankees). One day, star player Darren Lemming (Ruben Adorno) holds a press conference to announce he’s gay. This apparently unprompted declaration is a huge surprise to everybody, not only because of its specific content, but because it is the first indication Darren has ever given of being human. He’s biracial, but neither that nor anything else ever seemed to create any barriers for him. And other than Kippy and Davey Battle (Raymond Jacquet), the super-religious star for another team, Darren doesn’t seem to have any friends or relations of any kind.

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Darren’s team-mates responds with varying degrees of tolerance. But they don’t seem to suffer any serious public blowback, indeed, their popularity has suddenly skyrocketed among gay men. Darren’s new broker, Mason Marzac (Andrew Pond), explains that this is the first time he’s ever felt invited into a world that is the basis of so much male bonding. The trouble starts with an ordinary challenge unrelated to Darren’s sexuality: starting pitcher Takeshi Kawabata (Kevin Matthew Reyes) keeps choking up in late innings. Closer Shane Mungitt (Chris Rozenboom) is brought in from the minor leagues to save the season.

Mungitt is a social oddball from somewhere in the South, he’s not sure where exactly, who has been through terrible trauma. Though a talented pitcher, he’s as uncouth and verbally challenged as Darren is suave. He’s also hugely prejudiced. Kippy tries to smooth everything out, but Mungitt keeps screwing up. Soon, his presence on the team forces Darren to question how much he’s really respected, and how much is reasonable for him to put up with.

Greenberg’s script cuts right to the heart of anxiety over gay men in sports by including lots of showering and changing scenes. Eight actors are fully naked at least once onstage. It’s necessary for an honest examination of the issue, but requires a lot of courage from the cast. For that alone, I commend them all, but they also give strong performances besides that.

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Adorno and Rasmann’s characters walk a fine line between being charming and infuriatingly arrogant. Kippy is the smartest guy on the Empires, but that’s not saying a whole lot. While he’s eloquent and often insightful, he really likes the sound of his own voice. Adorno perfectly embodies Darren Lemming’s genteel disdain. When they’re among friends their wit is enjoyable, but they completely botch their first interaction with Mungitt, joking about his being an orphan as if that would ever not be a sore subject. Chris Rozenboom’s Mungitt is both pathetic and repulsive. Unable to put his thoughts and feelings into acceptable words, he’s left trying to suppress everything until it comes out in bizarre and inappropriate ways. His last explosion felt inevitable from that first conversation.

Andrew Pond, as the gay broker, is more straight-laced than suggested by his dialogue or past interpretations of the character. On the page, Marzac reads as Angels in America’s Louis Ironson. The point of his character is to show how the sort of person who would normally be anathematized in a stadium feels hope for acceptance if an MLB player can be gay. But Pond’s version works better for me as someone Darren would see as a potential friend. Director David Belew has a tough job with the first act, in which not a whole lot really happens, but he keeps it from becoming stale. The set (Zoe Mikel Stites) is simple, but serves its purpose. I don’t understand the need for projections, which are almost never utilized, but they’re not distracting.

The play works as both a character study and a social issue piece. Actually, it makes slightly more sense for Darren to be surprised by controversy now than it did in 2002. In that way, a bit of his other-worldly mystique gives way to a deeper exploration of his character. This production works as a drama in its own right, with excellent performances by the leads.

Highly Recommended

Jacob Davis

3jacob.davis@gmail.com

Reviewed October 12, 2014

Jeff Recommended

For more information, visit Theatre in Chicago.

At the Athenaeum Theatre Studio 1, 2936 North Southport Ave, Chicago. For tickets, call 773-935-6875 or visit http://athenaeumtheatre.org/. For company information, see http://www.eclectic-theatre.com/. Runs through November 2. Thursday-Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sunday at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $25. Run time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission. This show contains nudity and is recommended only for those 16 and up.

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