Richard Greenberg delivers pure poetry in his discourse on the magic of baseball, its sway over lifelong fans and its magnetic pull for newcomers, who find themselves immediately attracted not only to the beauty of a home run but to the game’s arcana as well. “Take Me Out,” in the Geffen Playhouse’s production, focuses on the dichotomy between an outsider’s view — that of metaphors and math — and the isolation the players feel when not engaged in a team effort. The humor in Greenberg’s text, particularly in the first act, is maximized, though there’s a nagging feeling that this play should be far more physical than it is: These are star athletes we’re watching here, but their presence is never imposing.
“Take Me Out,” which won the play Tony in 2003, concerns the consequences of a superstar player’s decision to publicly declare his homosexuality. The announcement from New York Empires center fielder Darren Lemming (Terrell Tilford) is met with ugliness, a bit of compassion and a lot of misunderstanding; the only one indifferent to change in the atmosphere is Lemming himself.
The first to raise a flag about the change in the locker room is Toddy Koovitz (Ian Barford), a player with limited comprehension of life away from the ballfield. Lemming’s best friend on the team, Kippy (Jeffrey Nordling), is the answer man for all the players — he not only comprehends Lemming’s mental milieu, he translates the rant in Japanese from Takeshi Kawabata (Ryun Yu), apologizes for the inexcusable actions of Shane Mungitt (Jeremy Sisto) and, one senses, provides the glue for the team. Nordling excels at giving Kippy a high-end everyman quality — he’s the smartest kid in the class, but one who humbly rejects the compliments about his mental abilities.
To contrast the locker room, Greenberg introduces Mason Marzac (Jeffrey Hutchinson), who has taken over Lemming’s financial affairs following the retirement of his former business manager. Marzac, eventually nicknamed Mars by Lemming, is a gay man who feels overlooked by the gay community; the chance to work with Lemming is an opportunity to bond with a fellow outsider.
It’s Marzac who gets to glorify baseball as Lemming considers walking away from the game, provided his portfolio is solid enough. There’s a Pygmalion element — the creator vs. the guardian — to their curious relationship; if the creator, in this case Lemming, walks away, the guardian, Marzac, is left without a role. Having finally found an enviable place in life, Marzac can’t imagine life without baseball or Lemming.
Brazen, confident and dispassionate, Lemming produces nightly on the field as the team goes through streaks of winning and losing. He is a pillar, an attitude that manifests itself at times into a stony performance when his blood should be boiling. And when his best friend, Davey Battle (Morocco Omari), a star on an opposing team, is in his presence, both men assume hardened stances that frustrate more than they illuminate.
Taken together, theirs is the ultimate conflict: gay vs. straight family man; the good-team superstar vs. the bad-team superstar; black and white (Lemming’s racial makeup) vs. black; guarded vs. open. To a considerable degree “Take Me Out” concerns identity, and these two are the closest in the beginning and the furthest apart at the end, a painful outcome of Lemming’s decision to go public.
But their confrontation has a wedged-in feeling unlike the rest of the action — we’re not made to like or dislike either of the players the way we are Lemming’s teammates, and without expressive performances, it’s the one scene that sits incomplete and unfulfilling.
Ultimately, though, this is a balanced production, one that doesn’t get carried away with the baseball epiphanies — thanks to Jeffry Hutchinson’s contained perf — the destruction of a friendship or the weight of Lemming’s announcement.
While the male nudity is as rampant as the Public Theater production in 2002, it is much less in your face than the beefcake parade of that staging.
Randall Arney’s staging allows the actors to milk the humor in the first act and vigorously stay within the themes of divisiveness and isolationism in the second.
Arney has instead amplified the loneliness of the players — the Japanese pitcher Kawabata who fired his translator and chose to live with teammates sans the ability to communicate beyond strike one, strike two, strike three. The two Hispanic players, Martinez (Carlos Albert) and Rodriguez (Byron Quiros), deliver their insults and wisecracks in Spanish and are on their way; the crude, uneducated hillbilly with a golden arm, Shane, insults his teammates and then does worse, ultimately becoming the one player no one wants to be around.
Eric Larson’s set contains the majestic trim of Yankee Stadium, yet the lockers themselves look cheap and hardly professional. (And why would pros have bobble-head dolls in their lockers). Daniel Ionazzi’s use of spotlights wisely directs the attention from one side of the stage to another to allow for the non-distracting clearing of furniture in the dark.