Review: In ‘Take Me Out’, whose team are you on?

Not in vain Darren Lemming, a fictional center player of a team called Empires, also at the center of “Take Me Out”, Richard Greenberg’s gay fantasy of national entertainment.

Lemming surpasses even Derek Jeter – on whom he is modeled to some extent – in versatility, perseverance and the kind of arrogance that stemming from excellence, it contributes to charisma. He is a natural star for baseball and, when he decides to advertise as gay, he is a natural irritant for drama.

At its best, “Take Me Out,” which opened Monday in a beautiful revival at the Helen Hayes Theater, is a play with five tools. It’s (1) funny, with an unusually high density of laughter for a yarn that’s (2) pretty serious and (3) brainless without undermining (4) emotions. I’m not sure if (5) counts as one tool or more, but “Take Me Out” gives meaty roles to the cast, led in this second-stage theater production by Jesse Williams as Lemming and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as his fan business manager.

True, dropping a few flies along the way and throwing wild pitches – sorry for the baseball metaphors, to which the show indulges in the zeal of a convert – makes “Take Me Out” a bit confusing in parts. It’s not the kind of work that benefits a lot from post-game analysis, which reveals flaws in construction and logic. But in performance, no less and no more than in 2002, when he made his New York debut at the Public Theater, he is mostly delightful and provocative. Perhaps especially for gay men, it is also a useful corrective to feelings of being expelled from a necessary sport.

By that I don’t mean baseball itself, but the examination of masculinity through its lens. In “Take Me Out”, Lemming’s announcement that he is gay, encouraged without scandal and does not include a lover, is essentially an excuse to consider masculinity. What he finds in the locker room, where Empires changes, showers, tears towels and quarrels, is just as desperate as what he finds on the field still gives hope and good.

Connecting them, Leming is a figure of divine mystery. In addition to his purely technical skills, he is such a person, as his teammate Kippy Sunderstrom (Patrick J. Adams) ornately describes him, from which clutter does not “flow”. Lemming assumes that whatever he does will benefit him, and that unlike most people for whom dating is important, his homosexuality will be just another “irrelevance” in his life, such as being handsome and polite. tuned.

What he did not count on is the way, for his teammates, the discovery dampens his aura of perfection while revealing the cracks in their less perfectly hermetically sealed psyche. Their nudity now seems different to them, which is why the audience is praying to take it into account. (But not around the world; users are asked to put their phones in Yondr cases to prevent photography.) As well-built as he is, a man who wears nothing is not protected by himself.

As a result, the Empires, who were previously on their way to the World Series, are starting to lose cohesion and, soon after, games. Homophobia springs from the dark places of other people’s souls; even Lemming’s closest friend, Davey Battle, a religious man who plays for the opposing team in multiple ways, remains unattached. And, with the arrival of Shane Mungitt, a pitcher called up from the lower leagues, confusion erupts in a shockingly violent act.

However, “Take Me Out” is not just about descending into chaos on the field; it is also, in the story of the business manager, Mason Marzac, about uplifting the spirit in the same place. Marzac, the kind of gay man who feels he has no place in the heterosexual world, or even in the gay community – “I am outside of them. Maybe under them “, he says – he is overjoyed when Leming, his new client, comes out. In this act, he sees the possibility of reintegration into the mainstream of Americanism and soon develops a manic interest in the game.

The fact that his newly discovered fandom is mostly a way of redirecting impossible sympathy doesn’t make it any less meaningful; that kind of sublimation can indeed be an unspoken aspect of many sports mania. Ferguson makes that feeling readable in a softer, less caustic interpretation of Marzac than that created by the brilliant Denis O’Hare, who won the Tony Award for production on Broadway in 2003. Ferguson reveals Marzak’s wounding in a fantastically detailed comic performance that is still full of longing and unexpected delight.

But if Lemming and baseball pull Marzac out of his shell of protective pessimism – one of the many meanings packed into a grand slam word title game – Marzac also pulls Leming out of his shell of separation. It is strange that this element, the most fantastic in real life, is most likely felt on stage, and only in part because the drama in the locker room, which includes too many obvious tightening devices as well as too many morons, slowly collapses as the story unfolds. The late scene added for this production, between Leming and two police officers, doubles that problem.

But as Leming and Marzac form a bond – neither romantic nor tender – the ideas that Greenberg juggles, about integration on the field and the integration of the psyche, pay off in full. Williams, a novice on stage but a longtime star of the television series “Gray’s Anatomy,” finds a way the glamor of the gifted can prevent them from being full of life; perhaps the apparent ease of his own career gives him an insight into the downside of too much ease.

Under the confident and lively but visually insufficiently powerful direction of Scott Ellis, the other members of the cast are great helpful players, moving quickly between the moments of focus and background work as team members. In particular, Michael Oberholtzer, like Mungitt, seems to disappear in his damaged self when he does not throw out bizarre biographical trifles or hatred. And as Battle, Brandon J. Dirden, who is just on a stellar turnaround as a factory foreman at Skeleton Crew, gives a perfectly engraved performance at the other end of the spectrum, finding in his faith a holiness that replaces even love.

In fact, it is Battle who inadvertently initiates the action, telling Leming that in order to be a complete man, he should want to “know about himself.” Finally, “Take Me Out” talks about the danger that some people face – a danger that others may not know about. However, Greenberg shows us that this is the key to happiness, and not only for gay men, even if it brings great difficulties. The game doesn’t have to be perfect to win.

Get me out
Until May 29 at the Helen Hayes Theater in Manhattan; Duration: 2 hours and 15 minutes.

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