'Take Me Out' Goes Down Swinging in SpeakEasy Production

"Take Me Out"

Written by Richard Greenberg; directed by Paul Daigneault; set design by Eric Levenson; costume design by Gail Astrid Buckley; lighting design by John R. Malinowski; sound design by Ryan Powers

Cast in order of appearance:

Kippy Sunderstrom, Nathaniel McIntyre

Darren Lemming, Ricardo Walker

Shane Mungitt, Christoper Brophy

Skipper/William R. Danziger, Bill Molnar

Martinez/Guard, Achilles Vatrikas

Rodriguez, Ricardo H. Rodriguez

Jason Chenier, Paul Ricciardi

Toddy Koovitz, Robert Najarian

Davey Battle, Ricardo Engermann

Mason Marzac, Neil A. Casey

Takeshi Kawabata, Samuel Young

Performances: Now through June 11

Box Office: 617-933-8600 or www.bostontheatrescene.com

Three major league Boston theatrical companies – SpeakEasy Stage, Boston Theatre Works, and Broadway in Boston – have teamed up to present the New England premiere of Richard Greenberg's Tony Award-winning play, "Take Me Out," currently at the Calderwood Pavilion in the Boston Center for the Arts. Too bad the production feels more like Spring Training than the World Series.

In "Take Me Out" Greenberg has applied his characteristically vaulting metaphorical prose to America's greatest pastime, baseball. His purpose is stated to be twofold: one, to pay tribute to the game that enraptured him during the summer of 1999 and turned him into a rabid fan for life; and two, to postulate what would happen to that national institution of male bonding if one of its esteemed members unexpectedly announced he was gay.

Greenberg does achieve his goals, but in an oddly inanimate way. He doesn't give us teammates who show boyish elation when they win or obvious frustration when they lose. His ballplayers don't exchange lively pre- and post-game locker room banter that then becomes exaggerated or strained once they suddenly learn there is a stranger in their midst. Instead, Greenberg hands the ball over to two speechifying narrators who provide all too frequent and over-stated philosophical analyses that tell the story of a pivotal season with the Empires rather than allow it to unfold naturally through bristling dialogue.

The primary narrator is Kippy Sunderstrom, the ad hoc team leader known for his intelligence, loyalty, and sense of fair play. Portrayed by the affable Nathaniel McIntyre, Sunderstrom alternates between interpreting his own third-party observations of events and acting as his team's calming influence and voice of reason. For the most part, McIntyre handles the uncharacteristic language of "Take Me Out" with flowing ease. His tone, however, tends to be monotonous, with wry comic lines being delivered with such understatement that the jokes almost get thrown away.

Mason Marzac, newly appointed financial consultant to the team's self-outed superstar Darren Lemming, is the much more dynamic storyteller who voices Greenberg's autobiographical transformation from a middle-aged gay wallflower to an enraptured, exuberant fan. As Marzac, the delightful Neil Casey makes no attempt to contain his newfound enthusiasm for the game. He loves everything about it – the true democracy of the rules, the equality of opportunity, the lack of a pre-determined playing time that means anyone has the chance to come from behind and win, and the way the athletes look in their wonderful form-fitting uniforms.

Like a 10-year-old playing catch in the back yard with his Dad, Casey's Marzac imagines himself taking the mound, shagging hot liners, and flouncing around the bases after hitting the game-winning homerun. Marzac's purely celebratory outlook is infectious. Casey's unadulterated innocence is sublime.

Darren Lemming, on the other hand – the half black, half white, and recently confessed gay All-American hero – seems jaded by his own success and excess. Bored, egotistical, and selfish to an almost comical extreme, this supposedly charismatic fan favorite, played with an uncomfortable stiffness by stage newcomer Ricardo Walker, never appeals. When interacting with his friend Kippy, he shows no affection or appreciation for the constant support he is given. His coming out shows no inner struggle or conflicting concerns for the effect it may have on his team or his fans. Even his nude shower confrontation with the John Rocker-like racist, homophobic fireball relief pitcher Shane Mungitt is less about Lemming's rage over derogatory comments Mungitt made about him to the press than it is about Mungitt's confusion and disgust at the feelings Lemming's homosexuality triggers in him.

Greenberg has written a sharp, if charmingly self-absorbed, contrast of disillusionment and humor into Lemming's character. Walker, however, fails to layer the playwright's subtleties into his performance. His Lemming comes across as unsympathetic and unfeeling. Why, then, would anyone like – let alone idolize – this dour, super-sized ego?

Oddly, the character for whom we end up having the most compassion is the walking time bomb, Shane Mungitt. Even when he confesses to deliberately throwing the high inside fastball that kills Lemming's best friend Davey, we are torn by his desperate, child-like pleas for understanding. As Mungitt, Christopher Brophy persuasively shows us the tragedy of a man who has succeeded his entire life in sublimating his pain by pitching nothing but game-saving heat only to have his protective armor stripped away by circumstances impossible for him to understand. His is the most powerfully, and naturally, written character in "Take Me Out." His is also the most scintillating performance.

As the Red Sox begin their quest to defend their miraculous 2004 World Championship and the movie "Fever Pitch" now playing in Boston only adds to the excitement, this fan was rooting for a three-game sweep with "Take Me Out." Unfortunately, Greenberg's all-talk no-action baseball-as-metaphor opus ends up being as antiseptic as set designer Eric Levenson's lockerless locker room and costume designer Gail Astrid Buckley's pristine pinstripes. Like all too many seasons of disappointment from the Red Sox past, this production of "Take Me Out" left me holding a bag of empty peanut shells and a box of half-eaten crackerjacks with no prize inside.


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From This Author Jan Nargi

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