Review: In “Take Me Out”, whose team are you on?

Not for nothing is Darren Lemming, the fictional central player of a team called Empires, also at the center of Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg’s gay fantasy of national entertainment.

He is said to be “a five-instrument player with such incredible grace that it makes you suspect he has a sixth instrument.” stemming from perfection complement the charisma. He is a natural star for baseball and, when he decides to go gay, a natural irritant to drama.

At its best, “Take Me Out”, which opened on Monday in a wonderful revival at the Helen Hayes Theater, is a play with five instruments. It’s (1) fun, with an unusually high density of laughter about a yarn that’s (2) pretty serious and (3) brainy without undermining her (4) emotion. I’m not sure if (5) counts as one instrument or many, but “Take Me Out” gives local roles to a team of actors led in this second-stage theatrical production by Jesse Williams as Lemming and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as his fan business. manager.

It’s true that putting a few flies on the road and throwing some wild games – forgive the baseball metaphors that the game is devoted to with the zeal of a transformer – makes “Take Me Out” a little confusing in parts. This is not the kind of work that gains a lot from post-game analysis, which reveals flaws in construction and logic. But in performance, now no less than in 2002, when he made his New York debut at the Public Theater, he was mostly admirable and provocative. Perhaps especially for homosexual men, this is also a useful corrective to the feeling of being banished from a necessary sport.

By that I don’t mean baseball itself, but the study of masculinity through its lens. In Take Me Out, Lemming’s statement that he is gay, caused by no scandal and without a lover, is essentially a pretext for investigating masculinity. What he finds in the locker room, where the Empire changes, bathes, tears towels and fights, is as desperate as what he finds on the field is still hopeful and good.

Connecting them, Lemming is a figure with a godlike mystery. In addition to his purely technical skills, he is a man, as described by his teammate Kipi Sunderstrom (Patrick J. Adams), from whom the mess does not “leak”. Lemming suggests that whatever he does will benefit him, and that unlike most people for whom dating is important, his gayness will be just another “inappropriateness” in his life, such as being handsome. and two races.

What he did not count on was the way in which, for his teammates, the revelation obscured his aura of perfection, while revealing cracks in their less hermetic psyche. Their nudity now seems different, so the audience is also asked to consider it. (But not the wider world; patrons are required to put their phones in Yondr’s bags to prevent shooting.) As complex as it is, a person who wears nothing is inherently unprotected.

As a result, Empires, earlier on the way to the World Series, began to lose cohesion, and soon after, games. Homophobia erupts from the dark places of other men’s souls; even Lemming’s closest friend, Davey Battle, a religious man who plays for an opposing team in more ways than one, remains unattached. And with the arrival of Shane Mangit, a pitcher called by the small leagues, the confusion erupts into a shockingly violent act.

And yet, “Take Me Out” is not just about descending into the chaos of the playing field; in the story of business manager Mason Marzak, it is also about raising the spirits in the same bar. Marzak, that gay man who feels he has no place in the heterosexual world or even in the gay community – “I’m out of them. Probably under them, “he says,” is very pleased when Lemming, his new client, comes out. In this action, he sees the possibility of reintegration into the American mainstream and soon develops a manic interest in the game.

The fact that his newly discovered fandom is mostly a way of redirecting impossible love doesn’t make him any less important; this type of sublimation can indeed be an unspoken aspect of many sports mania. Ferguson makes this feeling legible in a softer and less biting look at Marzak than the one created by the brilliant Dennis O’Hare, who won the Tony Award for Broadway production in 2003. Ferguson reveals Marzak’s injury in a wonderfully detailed comic performance. which, however, is full of longing and unexpected enthusiasm.

But if Lemming and baseball take Marzak out of his shell of protective pessimism – one of the many meanings wrapped in the title of the Grand Slam title – Marzak also took Lemming out of his shell of alienation. It is strange that this element, the most fantastic in real life, feels most believable on stage and only in part because the drama in the locker room, which includes too many obvious tensioning devices as well as too many fools, slightly collapses with the development of the story. A late scene added for this production, between Lemming and two police officers, doubles this problem.

But as Lemming and Marzak form a relationship – not romantic, but not tender – Greenberg’s ideas of juggling ball integration and psychic integration pay off. Williams, a newcomer to the stage but a longtime star of the TV series Gray’s Anatomy, points out how the brilliance of the gifted can protect them from a full life; perhaps the apparent effortlessness of his own career gives him an idea of ​​the other side of too much ease.

Under the confident and cheerful, albeit visually inadequate, direction of Scott Ellis, the rest of the cast became excellent helpful players, moving quickly between spotlight and background work as team members. In particular, Michael Oberholzer, like Mangit, seems to disappear into his damaged self when he does not vomit strange biographical delicacies or hatred. And like the Battle, Brandon J. Deerden, just after a stellar turn as a factory foreman at Skeleton Crew, presents a perfectly engraved performance at the other end of the spectrum, finding in his faith a sacrament that replaces even love.

In fact, Battle is the one who inadvertently drives the plot, telling Lemming that in order to be a full-fledged person, he must want “all his self-knowledge.” After all, Take Me Out is about the danger that the challenge poses to some people – a danger that others may know nothing about. And yet Greenberg shows us that it is crucial for happiness and not just for gays, even if it creates great difficulties. A game does not have to be perfect to be won.

Take me out
Until May 29 at the Helen Hayes Theater, Manhattan; Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes.

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