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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the October 16, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New York Review: `Take Me Out’

The 2002 Broadway season started off in high style

with "Hairspray," a hit comparable to "The Producers."

As if to say we are not going to be outdone, Off-Broadway’s Public

Theater responded with an equally early home run with "Take Me

Out," the Richard Greenberg play about a major league baseball

player who "comes out." Following its extended run at The

Public, "Take Me Out" is expected to move to Broadway.

If Richard Greenberg’s play "Take Me Out" becomes the hit

it deserves to be, it will bring him the recognition he deserves as

one of the best playwrights America has produced. It will also be

hard to listen to that grand old baseball song "Take Me Out to

the Ball Game," without thinking about a new subtext for the old

lyric.

With no apologies to the real major league ball player who was inclined

this past summer to call a press conference in his own defense, Greenberg

has created a good-looking, bi-racial superstar playing for the top

team in the league who decides to come out of the closet. He does

this during a TV interview in the height of the season. The all-male

play, which played to great success in London this summer, has garnered

a lot of attention because of its shower room scenes with full frontal

nudity. But as with all of Greenberg plays ("The Dazzle,"

"Three Days of Rain"), the terrific dialogue, absorbing characters,

and compelling situations are most impressive.

This is not to say that the raw exhibition of beefcake won’t be momentarily

distracting for those who can’t listen and look at the same time.

Homophobia, and its resulting effect on a team — the New York

Empires — results in repercussions that follow the self-assured

star center fielder Darren Lemming (Daniel Sunjata) from his attempt

to be honest and bold about his homosexuality to the challenges that

accompany his decision. Buoyed by his own hubris, Lemming has every

intention to meet the challengers that surprisingly are not the more

up front and confrontational members of the team. How he does it and

how his outing is dealt with by him, his team, and the management

is revealed through Kippy (Neal Huff), a shortstop and Lemming’s friend

until a surprise twist, who serves as the play’s narrator.

Interestingly, the play never delves into Lemming’s private life.

Instead, it keeps its focus on what effect an intrusion of gayness

has in the macho world of baseball. The play is not without humor,

especially a scene in the shower room when the players exhibit the

predictable response to a dropped bar of soap. Director Joe Mantello

masterfully manipulates the players that populate Scott Pask’s steely

architectural setting.

Tension is created between Lemming and Shane Mungit (Frederick Weller),

a pea-brained relief player from Arkansas whose openly expressed bigotry

brings more disruption to the clubhouse than all the ribbing and restrained

and often funny responses from the other players. Sunjata is superb

as the arrogant but also affable Lemming. For all Greenberg’s purposefulness

in picking one of the more unlikely milieus for a gay issue, it is

to his credit how much passion is revealed for the game and for its

fans.

During the play, Lemming’s gay business manager Mason Marzak (Denis

O’Hare), whose awe of his client is kept in the closet, becomes enamored

of the game. He is impelled to deliver a climactic speech on the nature

and beauty of the sport that is as intellectually compelling as it

is emotionally moving. Although Greenberg’s tendency is toward overwriting

(the play is three hours long, with two intermissions), he gives the

characters enough wit and complexity to support the ethnic stereotyping

that colors their predisposed personalities. Lasting through the extra

innings is as easy as predicting that this play could easily take

the pennant at season’s end.

— Simon Saltzman

Take Me Out, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, New

York. $45. Tele-Charge, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. To November

24.


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