In this brilliant first Broadway revival of Richard Greenberg’s 2003 Tony Tony award-winning comedy, which is a gay man’s love letter to baseball, Jesse Williams plays Darren Lemming, a star player who is so good at game – so universally revered throughout his life for its grace and skill – that he can’t imagine any repercussions for his public coming out as a gay man.
So he does. And there are repercussions.
This is basically the plot of “Get Me Out” which runs at the Helen Hayes Theater through May 29. The plot, especially its climax in tragedy, isn’t the best thing about the play.
And no, I’m not talking about the extensive nudity in the all-male cast, even though that seems to be generating the most buzz.
“Take Me Out” demonstrates Richard Greenberg’s skills both as a playwright and comedian, and especially as a master of repartee and puns. He’s such a skilled wordsmith that the title “Take Me Out” has four or five different meanings, each describing a different layer of the room.
The title of course suggests the song “Take me out to the ballgame”, which composer Albert von Tilzer and lyricist Jack Norworth wrote in 1908, and remains one of the three best-known tunes in America (after “Happy Birthday and “the Star Spangled Banner.”)
‘Take Me Out’ treats baseball the same way ‘Friday Night Lights’ treated football – i.e. it’s steeped in lore and jargon, it feels authentic, but you don’t have to. you don’t need to know (or care) about the game to engage with the characters.
“Take Me Out” also evokes the process of coming out. Almost all coming-out stories involve memorable reactions, and Greenberg is good at exploring how Darren’s revelation unfolds in the hyper-masculine, communal setting of a team of professional athletes. Some of it is fun, like verbally sparring with some of his less eloquent teammates. Some of them are thought-provoking, like conversations with his team best friend, Kip (Patrick J. Adams), and team manager Skipper (Ken Marks), who only expresses support for his player, initially, but ultimately can’t hide his annoyance: “Is it fair, for example, that someone lands one of the biggest contracts in baseball history and only then reveals his little interesting personal quirk?” The reaction is even harsher with his best friend Davey Battle (Brandon J. Dirden) who is a star player on a rival team and a deeply religious man.
The freshest layer baked into the title is the story of Mason Marzac (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), a shy gay man with great financial savvy who has been cast by his company to be Darren’s new business manager. Given his new client, Mason considers it his duty to watch his very first baseball game. But he was quickly conquered by this sport which he found transcendent. “Life is so small, then dailying,” he tells Darren. “That – you – get me out of this.” He not only becomes an exaggerated enthusiast, but almost a poet of baseball. Through Mason, Greenberg (obviously a fan himself) riffs on its beauty and meaning – how it’s “a perfect metaphor for hope in a democratic society”. Indeed, “baseball is better than democracy because, unlike democracy, baseball recognizes loss” – which inspired, thanks to its newly acquired subtext, the show’s biggest applause.
Denis O’Hare won the Tony for his portrayal of Mason in the original Broadway production, a memorable performance that focused the play (at least in my memory) on his character.
Ferguson is fine in the role, but doesn’t stand out in the same way, and perhaps that’s why the focus shifted to Kip (Adams stands out.)
Kip is the teammate with whom the private and laconic Darren opens up, insofar as he opens up to anyone. The team intellectual, Kip is a good match for Darren’s spirit. When Kip tells Darren that coming out has made him more likable and human, Darren asks, “What was I before?”
“Sort of… pious.
“And now I’m human?”
“Yeah Dar? »
“Isn’t it a demotion?“
Kip is also the narrator. He is the one who explains to us the many aspects of Darren’s perfection from the start, and not just as an athlete. His white father. His black mother. Their triumphant but cozy bourgeois marriage. Even in baseball – one of the few areas of American life in which people of color are regularly adored by people of pallor – he was something special.
Kip walks us through the final meaning of “take me out” – in the sense of annihilation. It kicks off because of a teammate, a barely verbal boondocks pitcher named Shane Mungitt (Michael Oberholtzer), who uses racist and homophobic language. This ultimately leads to a tragedy out of left field (or actually out of the pitching mound), which doesn’t entirely work for me, but at least doesn’t involve the heroic plot of a gay man committing suicide.
Under the direction of Scott Ellis, the cast of 11 members is excellent, right down to Japanese Julian Chi and Spanish speakers Hiram Delgado and Eduardo Ramos – their foreign languages put into the piece in part, I think, to underline the difficulty people to communicate with each other. The set convincingly conveys the individual lives and underlying tensions of a professional sports team in a way that, for better or worse (especially for worse), hasn’t changed.
When the original production of “Take Me Out” aired on Broadway in 2003-04, only two Major League Baseball players had come out as gay to the press – both only after they retired. Two decades later, it’s still just those same two.
take me out,
Hayes Theater until May 29
Duration: 2h15 with an intermission
Tickets: $79 to $199
Written by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Scott Ellis.
Stage design by David Rockwell; Costume design by Linda Cho; Lighting design by Kenneth Posner; Sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman;
Cast Patrick J. Adams, Julian Cihi, Hiram Delgado, Brandon J. Dirden, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Carl Lundstedt, Ken Marks, Michael Oberholtzer, Eduardo Ramos, Tyler Lansing Weaks and Jesse Williams.