Dominion Stage Take Me OutBy Bob Ashby • Oct 9th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Gunston Arts Center, Arlington, VA
Through October 22nd
2:15 with one intermission
$20/$18 in advance
Reviewed October 14th, 2011
A superstar athlete offhandedly mentions that he is gay. What happens next? That is the premise of Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out, which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2003. Set principally in the locker room of a championship baseball team resembling the New York Yankees, the play examines the ripple effects of the self-outing by hard-hitting outfielder Darren Lemming (Jivon Lee Jackson) on the relationships among his teammates and acquaintances.
Lemming is an enigmatic, emotionally detached character who keeps others at a distance. The challenge for the actor playing the part is to show the beginnings of human vulnerability as difficult and ultimately violent events impinge on a man who believes that nothing bad can touch him. While one might wish for a bit more of the casual, elegant arrogance of a sports icon (think the pre-scandal style of Tiger Woods), Jackson effectively portrays Lemming’s first signs of encroaching humanity, including a tentative opening to friendship by play’s end and some telling physical details, like a nervous leg twitch when events are spinning out of his accustomed control.
The script is uncommonly presentational: a great deal of the play is narrated straight out to the audience, principally by Kippy Sunderstrom (Richard Isaacs), the team’s intellectually inclined shortstop. Isaacs plays the role with a relaxed and confident physicality while navigating its verbal demands flawlessly. In addition, the one non-ballplayer in the play, Mason Marzak (Tom Flatt), Lemming’s nebbishy gay business manager, has a lengthy monologue in the first act that is a show-stopper in both senses of the word. Delivered by Flatt with comic virtuosity, much to the audience’s evident pleasure, the monologue also halts the play’s action in its tracks for several minutes. In playing Marzak, Flatt has fun with gay stereotypes and displays enthusiastically his character’s newfound, over-the-top delight in the game of baseball.
An irony here: Take Me Out focuses intently on the destructive effects of stereotypes, while itself making extensive use of stereotypes: the dumb jock, the prejudiced hillbilly, the gruff manager, the fey gay man, the narrow-minded Christian, the inscrutable Asian. These stereotypes sometimes work to comic or dramatic effect, yet leave a mixed message at the heart of the play.
Director Matthew Randall de-emphasizes the play’s renowned locker-room nudity through use of a strategically placed screen around the team’s shower, the adroit use of towels, and the choice to show only a few players naked at a time. Using nudity somewhat more sparingly than in some mountings of the show does not undermine the locker room atmosphere of this production, however.
While it is character interaction, rather than baseball action, that is most important to Take Me Out, one might hope that a production of a play involving a baseball team would pay greater attention to baseball details. The New York Empires are apparently the only major league baseball team in existence whose uniform jerseys lack team names, logos, and players’ numbers. Curiously, given that nearly all the play’s characters are jocks, there is nary a jockstrap in sight when the players disrobe. When players mime pitching or hitting, their technique would not pass muster on a Little League team.
A more serious problem for the production is that its two least sympathetic characters are its least well-acted. As Lemming’s erstwhile friend, the self-righteous Davey Battle, Wain Jenkins is painfully awkward, vocally and physically, much given to the use of melodramatic gestures. As bigoted relief pitcher Shane Mungitt, Jimmy Hennigen’s whiny, high-pitched voice and excessive seeking after pathos are distracting, particularly in the third act. On the other hand, Don Michael Mendoza and Olin Nettles do nice turns as a high-strung Japanese pitcher and the team’s inarticulate manager, respectively.
The set is effective in its simplicity, consisting mainly of two groups of lockers around an elevated shower unit. The backdrop is a white cyc, lit in various colors as the play proceeds, part of a lighting design that illuminates the action without distracting from it.
The size of the opening night house was smaller than this creditable production of a good play deserved. Hopefully, the production’s future performances will draw better.
My introduction to Richard Greenberg’s Tony-Award winning Take Me Out was the Studio Theatre’s excellent production in May of 2005. Greenberg’s plays include personal favorites The Violet Hour and Three Days of Rain (both produced in recent local productions). Greenberg uses contemporary dialogue and humor to convey important messages and sometimes controversial themes.
Though I wish I could have cast even more of the talented actors who gave such good auditions, I was extremely fortunate in the casting of this show, and the production team we assembled. Special thanks go to Joe Aquilina, Jude Rodriguez and Don Michael Mendoza, who came in late in the process and tackled non-English-speaking characters.
In our pre-rehearsal “table work,” the cast discussed the themes of the show, especially that of the Other, or outsider. Undercurrents of racism, homophobia, xenophobia and class run through the production, just as they do in our lives. Darren Lemming –- biracial, gay, and privileged — believes himself able to simple “ride above” these forces, little realizing he will instead become their crucible. His struggle to reconcile how he views himself with how he is viewed by others lends humanity to a seemingly arrogant and aloof personality. Mason Marzak’s opinion that “Democracy is lovely, but baseball is more mature” is put to the test when the Empires must face their prejudices, individually and as a team.
There’s more at stake here than the World Series, and this play is about much more than a game. I hope this production engages, amuses and moves you. If Take Me Out takes you out of your daily lives for a few entertaining hours tonight, we’ll have hit a home run.
- Kippy Sunderstrom: Richard Isaacs
- Darren Lemming: Jivon Lee Jackson
- Shane Mungitt: Jimmy Hennigan
- Martinez: Joseph Aquilina
- Rodriguez: Jude Rodriguez
- Skipper: Olin Nettles
- Jason Chenier: Jeffrey Stevenson
- Toddy Koovitz: David Austin
- Mason Marzak: Tom Flatt
- Davey Battle: Wain Jenkins
- Takeshi Kawabata: Don Michael Mendoza
- Producer: William D. Parker
- Director: Matthew Randall
- Stage Manager: Jay Stein
- Technical Director: David M. Moretti
- Scenic and Painting Design: Hector Lorenzini
- Master Carpenters: Hector Lorenzini, Darryl Watanabe
- Costume Design: David M. Moretti
- Sound Design: Kevine DeMine
- Assistant Sound Engineers: David Gonzales, Logan Hartsell
- Light Board Operation: Phil Natalini
- Stage Crew: Janet Parker
- Japanese Dialect Coach: Rob Batarla
- Spanish Dialect Coach: Josepth Aquilina
- Properties, Makeup and Hair: Cast
- Set Construction and Painting Crew: William Browning, Kelly Halliday, Phil Natalini, Olin Nettles,
- Bill Parker, Joe Washecheck
- Load In/Tech Crews: Phil Natalini, Janet Parker, Jay Stein, Jim Vincent, Darryl Watanabe
- Auditions: Bill Parker
- Marketing/Social Media/Blog Team: Larissa Norris
- Press/Archival Photography: Allrand Photography
Disclaimer: Dominion Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7229.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.