Take Me Out
Between the steroids scandal and the pitiful performance of our hometown nine, local baseball fans may be feeling a bit low these days. So, it's timely that Curious Theatre Company is producing the regional premiere of Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out—winner of the Tony Award for Best New Play in 2003. Here, finally, is a stage tribute equal to the great cinematic paeans to our national pastime (Bull Durham, The Natural, and Field of Dreams).
As one might expect from the theatre, however, the story goes beyond heroic feats, philosophic metaphors, and intergenerational nostalgia to explore the social attitudes that lie beneath the surface of the green grass, clearly delineated chalk lines, and ground rules that circumscribe the action.
What the playwright has dared to do is something that no one in any of the four major professional sports leagues (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) has ever done in the combined 400-year history of these endeavors: come out of the closet. Color lines have been broken, indentured servitude has given way to free agency, and regular season games are played in Canada, Mexico, and Japan, but never has a player declared that he is gay.
|Jose Enrique as Rodriguez and|
Ernesto Escalera as Martinez
Photo: Michael Ensminger
If baseball is to be taken as a metaphor for American life, as so many writers, fans, players, and literary talents have told us that it is, then Greenberg is to be commended for addressing a bigotry that lies close to the heart of the game and the country. Yes, yes, the self-righteous, pseudo-religious book-thumpers will rail and shout that their behavior is justified by some phrase here or there that was used to shore up a policy set down by Patriarchs thousands of years ago to ensure the replenishment of their troops decimated by war and disease, but science has long since shown that the spectrum of human (and mammalian) sexual behavior ranges from hetero- to homosexual and everywhere in-between. So, enough of the bigots pretending to be followers of Jesus.
But when Darren Lemming, a five-tool star (power, average, speed, glove, and arm) for the Empires, calls a press conference and lets his secret be known, one would have thought that George W. Bush came out and told the truth about his military service, insider trading, 9-11, WMDs, the Clear Skies Initiative, industry control over U.S. energy policy, and Social Security. Many of Lemming's teammates begin to feel uncomfortable, particularly in the showers, and one of them literally goes berserk. Greenberg doesn't have to go into what the fans are saying. We've been to enough games to imagine what comes out of the mouths of the obnoxious drunks that use their tickets as an excuse to get plowed and talk big.
as Darren Lemming
Photo: Michael Ensminger
In case you think this is an exaggeration, recall what happened when former Colorado Rockies' pitcher Todd Jones spoke his mind on the subject: "I wouldn't want a gay guy being around me. It's got nothing to do with me being scared. That's the problem: All these people say he's got all these rights or whatever, but he shouldn't walk around proud." Thankfully, the Rockies traded this jerk.
Tyee Tilghman, who gave such a polished performance in Curious' Yellowman last season, is as smooth as Joe DiMaggio's stroke in the role of Lemming. He exudes supreme confidence, as a great player should; his swagger is worth a thousand words; when he speaks, it is with unwavering conviction.
The storyline is moved along by Kippy, Darren's teammate and best friend, who both narrates and participates. Leigh Miller deftly handles these switch-hitting duties, engaging the audience with his warm, erudite storytelling, coming across as a clubhouse professor, much in the way of Harvey Blissberg from Richard Rosen's Edgar Award-winning baseball mystery series.
|Leigh Miller as Kippy|
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Then there is the quirky Shane, a phenom fresh up from the minors, who becomes the Empires' closer. True to tradition (Damn Yankees, The Natural, and the famous Sports Illustrated April Fool's Day spoof), he comes from out of nowhere to carry the team down the stretch. The lanky John M. Jurcheck delivers an edgy performance, bringing forth a half-redneck, half-touched fastballer somewhere between Randy Johnson (The Big Unit) and Mitch Williams (The Wild Thing).
But it is Eric Sandvold's Mason, Lemming's accountant, who steals the show. Sanvold's range of character and voice is as sweeping as Ozzie Smith at shortstop or Willie Mays in centerfield. In the early innings, he draws us in slowly, coming off as a tentative pinch hitter for Lemming's regular business manager.
|Eric Sanvold as Mason|
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Like his client, Mason has been keeping his homosexuality under his hat, as a spitballer does with his Vaseline or emery board; we can see some of the effects, but we can't prove anything. As the season flies by, though, and Lemming comes out, so does Mason. Here Sanvold hits for the cycle as a newly inoculated baseball fan, waxing eloquently with grand metaphors, and as a gay man finally comfortable being himself. By the late innings, his over-the-top effusiveness has become so contagious, the audience begins laughing before Sanvold even opens his mouth.
The rest of the ensemble provides an authentic feel for the clubhouse and the normal panoply of eccentric characters that inhabit these environs.
Director Chip Walton keeps the action moving, throwing a complete game in the time it takes to get to the 7th inning stretch at Coors Field. The batting and most of the pitching is simulated with good form—no one would ever know that only three of the actors had any baseball experience—and the nude shower scenes are natural, completing the gritty feel begun in the locker room.
Daniel Guyette's set is an efficient mix of three classic elements: the locker room, the showers, and the scoreboard, all surrounded by World Series championship banners and hand-painted ads for Coca-Cola, Phillip Morris, Burma Shave, Bull Durham, Zenith and others on the surrounding proscenium, wrapping the proceedings in an aura of tradition so intrinsic to the game. The flowing water from the half-dozen showers is a marvel, and the scoreboard is right out of Wrigley Field.
While some may question the likelihood of a professional athlete in one of the four major team sports coming out, consider some events in baseball and in the world that would argue for this possibility one day: the Army was integrated; Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball; public schools were integrated; gays in the military have come out; there are gay congressional representatives; there are black Senators and the last two Secretaries of State have been black (we won't go into this ruse); Curt Flood ended the indentured servitude of players, the union was formed, and players got free agency; the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed; Rome fell; etc.
So, the likelihood that, at some point, an athlete will be compelled to state what Mother Nature has already made clear, will come sooner or later. In fact, it is more likely to happen than a player dying from a beanball (as occurs in the story), which has only happened once in the history of baseball (before helmets were required, and before the helmets were later enlarged to cover the ear). This story, of course, takes us one step closer to it happening. Let's hear some noise!
Curious Theatre's regional premiere of Richard Greenberg's Tony Award-winning Take Me Out runs through July 23rd. 303-623-0524 or www.CuriousTheatre.org