FPCT's "Take Me Out" is a Grand Slam

SHOW INFORMATION: Through October 19.  Fri - Sat at 8PM, Sun at 2PM.  Tickets $17.00.  Call 410.276.7837 or go to www.fpct.org for information and ticket reservations.

out of five.  2 hours, 45 minutes, including 2 intermissions.  PARENTAL ADVISORY:  Take Me Out contains adult language, themes and full frontal male nudity.  Not recommended for children.

Given the hype, exacerbated by the article in The Baltimore Sun a few weeks ago, you'd think that Take Me Out should have been called Naked Boys Swinging.  That article made it sound like the play, which opened last night at Fells Point Corner Theatre, was nothing but buff ball players on parade.  Of course, the article missed the boat completely.  And, of course, I'm not here to editorialize about a rival publication, but I will set the record straight on behalf of the cast and production team who probably tried valiantly to steer the reporter in the right direction, as well as set it straight for those of you who might automatically dismiss the show as excessive smut.  It is as far from that as the Orioles are from first place. 

In the interest of getting facts in line, yes, there is quite a bit of nudity in the play.  Yes, it is entirely appropriate - the drama unfolds in a baseball locker room, just off the showers after all.  But, no, it is never gratuitous.  Heck, aside from being the subject of a valid point about carefree behaviors being modified, which lasts all of two minutes; it is never even an issue.  It is simply realistic.  FPCT is certainly justified in issuing the parental advisory you read above - though I'd say it was more so for the themes of the play than the skin you see.

So, what is Take Me Out really about?  A complicated question and answer, I'm afraid.   The "plot" concerns a perennially successful MLB team, The Empires, and its superstar player, Darren Lemming.  Mr. Lemming is an all-American success story.  He's bi-racial, from a successful family, with an inordinate amount of talent, a hero and heartthrob to all, and who makes the startling announcement that he is gay.  That declaration sets in motion a series of events that changes the lives of everyone on the team forever.  But the play is really "about" so much more, far beyond what you probably expect.  Homosexuality is but one theme, and not even the most important theme, of this play.  In hindsight, the gay angle seems almost a subplot.  It is about preconceived notions about sports and sportsmen in America, about the truest meaning of friendship (most notably about male friendship), about what we value as a society, and how, surprisingly about how heroes aren't always completely good and villains aren't always completely bad.  It is about all of that and more, which I will leave for you to chew on after you see this absolutely stunning production.

To say that this play scores on every level would some how seem to give each aspect short shrift, much in the same way some theatre snobs automatically give short shrift to community theatre without ever sampling it.  Yes, this a "community theatre" production, but it has quality that I would say is comparable to any regional theatre in our area.  And this is from top down.  Aside from some awkward gaps caused by lighting mishaps and scene changes made by actors who are about to speak, this production runs like a well-oiled machine, which is due in large part, I am sure, by the firm hand of director Terry J. Long, who treats each small scene - there are several in each act - like each is a complete play.  This is crucial in an episodic script, and serves to not only up the quality of each dramatic and comic moment, but it also helps create a fluidity that a lesser director would have flubbed to disastrous result.  You see, playwright Richard Greenberg has structured the play as a flashback, with several flashbacks within it.  To heighten dramatic tension, the play is told out of order.  Fortunately, because Mr. Long and company have a firm grasp on the play, this is never an issue and the whole piece is incredibly easy to follow.

Mr. Long and Brian A. Erickson designed the simple yet effective set, such that we move from place to place around the stadium and other locales easily.  The set pieces, open athletic lockers move simply to configure not only the locker room, but the coach's office, a local bar and other places, while the floor, painted like a field of dreams is the entire baseball field by virtue of a simple lighting change (designed by William Marks).  Delroy Cornick's sound design adds greatly to the ambiance of the work and helps create aurally what cannot be done visually when we see the team actually play.  Finally, Larry Malkus' fight direction for one key scene is so remarkably realistic, the audience, myself included, gasped several times.

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James was first bitten by the theatre bug at the tender young age of 11, when, at the last minute, he was called upon to replace a classmate who, 42nd STREET-like, broke his leg, in a play, of all things, about the skeletal system! It was a trip to New York with his high school drama teacher to see Angela Lansbury in MAME that sealed his fate. As an actor, favorite roles include Sheridan Whiteside in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, Potiphar in JOSEPH..., Col. Pickering in MY FAIR LADY, and Sancho Panza?s ass in MAN OF LA MANCHA. After spending a summer feeling very conflicted playing both an apostle AND a high priest in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, James' theatre career took a turn toward direction and design, including such varied productions as THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, LOST IN YONKERS, GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER and GRAND HOTEL, SIDE SHOW, THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD and SWEENEY TODD. James holds a Bachelor's degree in English from Towson University, with additional course work in journalism, dramaturgy, scenic design and stage direction. He is living proof that you can be a devout Sondheim fan AND love MAMMA MIA!

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