Welcome to Curtain Call, our mostly queer take on the latest theater openings on Broadway and beyond.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) and Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) co-star in a revival of Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg’s Tony Award-winning play about how a major league baseball player’s coming out triggers a series of events. There’s been plenty of buzz around the full-frontal locker room and shower scenes, but the biggest reveal is the continued relevance of LGBTQ representation in professional sports. With witty and rancorous viewpoints, Greenberg’s densely packed script is like a changeup pitch — methodical and purposefully deceptive in its captivating construct.
No Tea, No Shade:
Playwright Richard Greenberg loves words. And throughout his 30-plus-year career on Broadway, actors from Julia Roberts and Judith Light to Paul Rudd and Mario Cantone have savored or spewed them, depending on what the dramatic moment demands.
The revival cast of Take Me Out joins the ranks, devouring his methodical riffs on toxic masculinity, double minorities, socioeconomic disparities and baseball’s cultural legacy. If all that sounds as heavy as a ballpark chili dog slathered in Cheez Whiz, fear not; director Scott Ellis sets up his team for a big win, aided by an efficiently slick scenic design by David Rockwell and sharply executed sensory stimulators by way of Kenneth Posner’s lighting design and Bray Poor’s stadium sounds effects.
From the play’s opening moment, when ball player Kippy (Patrick J. Adams) says, “After all, if he hadn’t done the thing, then the next thing wouldn’t have happened,” the blame game is underway. That “thing” Kippy refers to is the team’s star center fielder, Darren Lemming’s (Jesse Williams), public coming out. And the things that happen after that get ugly.
With millions in the bank and a solid career ahead, Darren’s invincibility seems untouchable despite some clubhouse sneers. But when foul-mouthed minor leaguer Shane Mungitt (Michael Oberholtzer) arrives on the scene spewing racial and homophobic slurs at a press conference, Darren’s emotional armor fractures. He appears almost frustrated at becoming the poster child for inclusion.
“I am so freakin’ sick of this welcome I’m getting,” says Darren. “Alluva sudden I’m a victim. F*ck that! I want slurs — brickbats — epithets.”
As Darren spirals, his newly hired business manager, Mason (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), discovers a love for baseball, describing it as the “perfect metaphor for hope in a Democratic society.” He speaks of the game’s noble equality:
“Equality, that is, of opportunity.
Everyone is given exactly the same chance.
And the opportunity to exercise that chance at his own pace.”
Of course, we all know that equality in sports — particularly for trans youth — is at a precipice. But as Take Me Out reveals, you never know where the ball will land until you swing the bat.
Let’s Have a Moment:
Yes, Darren and his teammates get naked and occasionally tousle one another — moments that Williams says are intrinsic to the play’s authenticity.
“You can’t have a conversation about masculinity and power dynamics in a major sports team without being in the locker room,” Williams said in an interview with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. “It’s about exposure, vulnerability. What do I do? Where do my eyes have to go now? What the brief nudity does is bring the audience into our experience. Yes. You have to decide where to look. Are you listening? Can you look and listen? Can you be here? Are you distracted?”
But what the audience also bears witness to in one of the play’s most metaphorically naked moments is how our prejudices are not born but learned. After a tragic incident on the playing field, the uneducated Shane lashes out a sputtering of rage at Kippy and Darren in a gripping, volatile display, years in the making. Last seen on Broadway in Hand to God, Oberholtzer strikes the impossible by eliciting compassion for a seemingly wretched human being who we later discover is tragically broken.
The Last Word:
Take Me Out soars in its allegorical celebration of America’s pastime. “… baseball says: Someone will lose. Not only says it — insists upon it! So that baseball achieves the tragic vision that Democracy evades. Evades and embodies,” Ferguson’s character proclaims. “Democracy is lovely, but baseball’s more mature.”
Take Me Out plays at the Hayes Theater through June 11, 2022.