Broadway’s “Take Me Out” is an explosive and fun baseball game
The old proverb “you don’t cry in baseball” finds an echo in the fantastic revival of the comedy “Take Me Out,” which premiered Monday night on Broadway.
Written in 2002 by Richard Greenberg, the fantastic show explores the potential consequences of highly paid athletes bottle their emotions to the breaking point for fan entertainment. The pitfalls of America’s favorite pastime could, the comedy says, lead to disaster.
Duration: 2 hours and 15 minutes with an interval. At the Hayes Theater, 240 W. 44th St.
In the drama, which – mind you – has a lot of frontal male nudity, center winger Darren Lemming (Jesse Williams) of a fictional team called the Empires suddenly turns out to be gay with his fellow players and the press. Darren, witty on the defensive, is apathetic about his own revelation, refuses to elaborate and believes there will be no relapse. And, for a while, he’s right.
But when a bigoted pitcher, Shane Mungitt (Michael Oberholtzer), joins the Empires and starts spewing racist and anti-gay slurs on TV, the mood in the locker room plummets. A few questions if Darren’s admission is hurting the team. Should his life be more important than the game? It’s no spoiler to say we never meet the MLB HR director.
Greenberg’s comedy, directed by Scott Ellis, appears less hypothetical today than it did 20 years ago. Since then, high profile Olympians like Gus Kenworthy, Tom Daley and others have come out. So too has Las Vegas Raiders defender Carl Nassib.
And, sexuality discussions aside, the issue of athletes’ emotional state has also been brought to the fore by the likes of Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles. We are starting to wonder if the violent outbursts long tolerated by athletes like tennis player Alexander Zverev are actually harmful and potentially dangerous to others.
However, “Take Me Out” is not a sports psychologist’s essay. It’s a tense and thrilling game – and far more propulsive than regular spring ball game – that thankfully doesn’t care about the endless sensitivities and triggers of 2022. Most of the scenes are set in the tense locker room and there’s an authenticity to the heartache and jokes of the players that wouldn’t exist if the script had been cleaned up by some modern nonprofit propaganda officer. The show has gut laughs and a lot of grit.
It helps that every cast member can be mistaken for a real baseball player, which can’t be said about most New Yorkers who have earned their MFA in acting. Williams, who is shy and cold very well, looks like our modern suave baseball stars, who own penthouses and wear designer clothes off the pitch. I kept thinking of Kris Bryant, third baseman of the Rockies, every time she was on stage.
Patrick J. Adams is witty as Kippy, the storyteller and balanced older brother of the team. Julian Cihi growls as pitching ace Takeshi Kawabata, who doesn’t know a word of English and resents his annoying cohorts. Carl Lundstedt is Toddy, an overconfident and cheeky idiot; Tyler Lansing Weaks is Jason, a sweet and well-meaning idiot; and Hiram Delgado and Eduardo Ramos are Martinez and Rodriguez, who loudly mock the others in Spanish.
The two most intriguing parts, however, are Davey Battle (Brandon J. Dirden) and Mason Marzac (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).
Battle is Darren’s best friend and a rival on another team who is deeply religious and encourages Darren to be open and honest with himself, at least that’s how Darren interprets his wisdom. Dirden plays Battle as a teddy bear with a switchblade.
Mason, nicknamed “Mars”, is Darren’s gay business manager, who suddenly becomes interested in baseball when his client leaves. Soon, the lonely outcast turns into an obsessive fan who lives and breathes the sport. If baseball has made being gay more difficult for Darren, the game is the long-awaited liberation of Mars. Ferguson, a warm and recognizable break from the meatheads, beautifully expresses the euphoria and intensity of being a fan. His performance has not yet reached 100%, but it will be.
Don’t come to “Take Me Out” for the well-being you got from “Field of Dreams” and “A League of Their Own” – come for 100mph, dirty-in-the-cleats Drama.