‘Take Me Out’
Through Oct. 12
1st Stage Theater
1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA
Richard Greenberg’s “Take Me Out” is often called the gay baseball play. And while it does hit those bases (gay playwright, gay protagonist, naked guys onstage), it’s unsparingly universal too.
After baseball superstar Darren Lemming (Jaysen Wright) unexpectedly holds a press conference to let the world know he’s gay, he mistakenly believes there’ll be no blowback. After all, bad things don’t happen to a young, rich and admired centerfielder. Or so he thinks. In time, his announcement sets off a string of disastrous events, none of which he’d ever imagined.
Now playing at 1st Stage in Tysons, the winner of the 2003 Tony Award for best play unfolds in flashback. Quickly we learn that following Lemming’s admission, the young biracial player’s game remains good, but his team, the world champion New York Empires, begin losing. To help fix things, they bring up an incredibly laconic pitching star from the AA league, Shane Mungitt (an excellent Ryan Kincaid). When Mungitt finally begins to talk, the Empires learn their latest phenom is in fact a confused redneck with a horrific backstory. Things go from bad to worse.
The stalwart Sun King Davis plays affable and articulate team veteran Kippy Sunderstrom who tries to smooth out the ensuing situation. Unfortunately his good intentions don’t help. Devyn Tinker is appropriately priggish as Lemming’s judgmental pal Davy Battle, a star player on an opposing team who figures prominently in the plot’s most tragic point.
The team also includes (among others) intense and lonely Japanese pitcher Takeshi Kawabata (graceful Jacob Yeh), and an amusingly green catcher Tim Torre (Jason Chenier).
Into this jock mix, is thrown Mason Marzac, Lemming’s new nebbishy gay business manager played with absolute relish by Adam Downs. While the nerdy numbers cruncher and his removed, cool client couldn’t be more different, they share one thing in common. Both are isolated from the gay community — Marzac because he is socially awkward and not the Chelsea ideal. And Lemming because he just doesn’t know people. Wright nails Lemming’s arrogance, detachment and quiet turmoil.
With Lemming as his new client, Marzac becomes besotted with baseball, unabashedly rhapsodizing about the physical and philosophical joys of the sport. Finally he feels he’s a part of something. It’s Marzac who strives to quell Lemming’s growing disenchantment with the game.
Skilled director Doug Wilder has assembled an excellent design team. Ruthmarie Tenorio has created a diamond-shaped stage that’s equally convincing as a clean-lined clubhouse with working showers or a professional playing field. Jane Chan provides stadium-like lighting. And even before the show begins, Neil McFadden creates a ballpark ambience, providing the rumble and roar of the crowd.
On Broadway and at D.C.’s Studio Theatre in 2005, much was made of the play’s onstage nudity. But here, at a strip mall in suburban Virginia, the actors’ bare bodies are no big deal. It just seems what you’d see in a locker room.
At times, playwright Greenberg’s script feels as if it might slide into cliché, but then it quickly moves back to the unpredictable. None of his characters are all good or bad. There are no martyrs, heroes or absolute devils. “Take Me Out” is a paean to the game. But it’s also about trust and community. And like life, it’s incredibly funny, often unnerving and sometimes tragic.