Joe Mantello’s Broadway production of “Take Me Out” takes the West Coast — albeit with a near-complete change of cast — in this hardy edition presented under Seattle Rep’s auspices. Neither that burg, current home S.F. or final tour stop San Diego is likely to suffer any ruffled feathers from this crowd-pleasing if muddled seriocomedy’s mix of all-American sports, hot-button issues and copious full-frontal male nudity. It remains to be seen whether that last element will remain, er, intact once the play hits heartland stages.
M.D. Walton slides confidently into the skin of Darren Lemming, star player for the World Series-destined New York Empires. Darren is cocksure about everything: his record-setting salary, his near-godlike game, his biracial identity, his general rep as “universally loved, a little remote.” He’s untouchable — or so he thinks.
But when he decides to announce he’s gay (pity the play doesn’t give him a sex life to go with it), things get awkward fast, particularly in the team locker room, and especially with near-caricature “white trash” newbie pitcher Shane Mungitt (Harlon George).
Retaining the Broadway production’s design elements –notably Scott Pask’s unit locker room/scoreboard set — this latest “Out” is pacey, racy and flashy. The latter in more ways than one: Not only do we get act two’s shower scenes, but in act one the cast’s most anatomically imposing specimen (Charlie Kevin as clownish homophobe Toddy) literally waves that thing around for an entire scene, his hips working harder than a hula dancer’s. Of course, the sheer gratuitousness is the joke.
The play itself remains entertaining but problematic, with its awkward use of two quasi-narrators (T. Scott Cunningham as Darren’s financial adviser Mason, Doug Wert as his closest teammate friend, Kippy). Then there’s the ornate, showstopping (in both good and bad sense) monologues extolling the philosophical beauty of baseball; messily episodic structure; and erratic-at-best development both within and between characters.
The only fully convincing and potent sustained confrontation here is the late one between Darren and rival-team player Davey (Charles Parnell), whose friendship has curdled into Bible-clutching moral condemnation.
“Take Me Out” aims to be so many things that in the end no umpire could make a clear call: Is it about baseball as metaphor for American race, class and sexual issues? A towels-off fantasy peek behind the locker room door? A comedy about machismo in distress? A character drama? A writer’s gushing fan note to the sport in general?
That it’s all these things in turn keeps “Take Me Out” lively and at times provocative, even if the clutter makes it appear Greenberg is making more cogent points than he actually manages.
Mantello’s current cast does a good job with variably depthed assignments, though Cunningham edges closer to irritating stereotype than Broadway’s Denis O’Hare did in a role that might as well have been penned for Harvey Fierstein.
Terrence Riordan scores some laughs as the effortfully PC dimwit Jason. Sole holdover from the Public Theater production is Gene Gabriel in the minor part of Spanish-speaking teammate Rodriguez.