Just over ten years old, Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out has already been widely accepted into the canon of Great American Plays. This is for good reason, as Greenberg’s tale of a baseball superstar who publicly comes out of the closet is both hilarious and moving, with deeply memorable characters. And 1st Stage, that smallish, newish theatre in Tyson’s Corner that is accessible via the new Silver Line, has mounted a stunning production of Greenberg’s serio-comedy.
Director Doug Wilder leads a remarkable all-male cast through the twists of this sometimes-funny, sometimes-tragic play. Jaysen Wright plays The Man himself, all-star centerfielder Darren Lemming, who surprises everyone by suddenly announcing his sexual preference to the media. Wright is impeccable as the low key and blaringly narcissistic Darren, who sardonically contends with the whole gamut of reactions from his jock peers, from awkward references to the Ancient Greeks to all-out homophobia. The locker room is in a state of unsteady peace until the arrival of Shane Mungitt (Ryan Kincaid), a pitching prodigy with a dark past and a tendency to voice opinions that went out of style with the Ku Klux Klan. As tensions between the players escalate, an unexpected intensity enters into what is, seemingly, a straightforward comedy. The result is surprisingly moving, and goes to the heart of all the cultural conflicts that converge in contemporary American society.
Take Me Out would fall flat if it were simply a story about homosexuality in professional sports. But the script implies, and Doug Wilder insists, that the show be about more than that. It is ultimately about the implications of telling the truth, of telling your truth, however subjective or irrational that may be. No character crystallizes this tendency to wring meaning out of the mundane like Mason Marzac, played with marvelous precision by Adam Downs. Mason is Darren’s effeminate business manager, who first becomes enraptured with baseball because of his client’s recent announcement, but then proceeds to appreciate the sport on a level that comes close to religious infatuation. Aspects of Downs’ performance might be considered simple or even stereotypical if they weren’t executed with such relentless authenticity. In moment after moment, Downs delivered nothing less than the full expression of a human being on stage. Funny, touching, and at moments triumphant, Downs was interrupted several times during his performance by the audience’s irrepressible applause. He is undoubtedly the heart and soul of this production.
In addition to a rock-solid ensemble, Wilder’s production is supported by an excellent scenic and lighting design, by Ruthmarie Tenorio and Jane Chan, respectively. Both designers achieve that most elusive of technical goals, simultaneous simplicity and efficacy. The space truly felt like a testosterone drenched locker room, and not just because of all the full-frontal male nudity.
Football may be America’s most-watched sport, but it can never take the special place in the cultural psyche that will always be inhabited by baseball. And despite all the talk in the play about sexuality and masculinity, Take Me Out is, at the end of the day, a play about baseball. So bring some peanuts, some crackerjacks, whatever you need; just make sure you don’t miss out on this thoroughly enjoyable gem.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one intermission.