BWW Review: Strawberry Theatre Workshop's TAKE ME OUT Knocks it Out of the Park
Back in 2002, Dear Readers, I became obsessed with a new play from Richard Greenberg, "Take Me Out". Already a fan of Greenberg's works, this story of a high profile Major League Baseball player coming out was quite intriguing. I got ahold of the script and my obsession grew. I annoyed all my friends about it until they too found out about its glory. And then a local production hit town and my obsession was locked, and this Tony Award winning play has since become one of my all-time favorites. So, if you know my work, you know how picky I'll be about this. And I'm thrilled to say that my favorite play has been done absolute justice in the current production from Strawberry Theatre Workshop over at 12thAve Arts and you all NEED to go see it.
Now 2002 was a different time but even so, a major sports figure coming out is still a big deal. Such is the case with Greenberg's play as Darren Lemming (Lamar Legend), the star of the Empires baseball team decides to announce he's gay. Some are supportive such as his best friend on the team, Kippy (Trick Danneker), and others not so much. But things seem fine until the team brings up a none-to-bright redneck, Shane Mungit (Craig Peterson), who can't keep his feelings to himself especially when cameras are pointed at him. And thus, the powder keg fuse is lit.
Now you may think this sounds heavy and oh so preachy, but Greenberg has infused the piece with tons of humor taking the air out of the tense situation which makes the final scenes all the more powerful. And director Greg Carter has, as always, grasped onto the perfect feel and tone for telling this story keeping it all clipping along at a freight train speed until the inevitable crash where it all comes to a stunning halt. With a fantastic set from Carter and lights and sound from Lily McLeod and Kyle Thompson, and costumes from Katherine Stromberger Perez we're placed in the midst of the Empire's locker room with ease. And I wondered how they were going to get away with the shower features (yes, there's nudity in the play). In the Broadway production and the local one I saw, the showers actually worked. Not here, but their solution was handled perfectly.
The show may be about Darren, but Danneker as Kippy takes on much of the storytelling as the narrator of the piece and he leads the play beautifully. He manages to carry the story while still keeping his own character grounded as part of the story which is not always easy. Legend has enough swagger and bravado for 10 Darren's and plays off the ego of this superstar perfectly. He never makes him a character or stereotype but keeps that attitude throughout and still manages an amazing arc. Jon Lutyens is hilarious as Mason Marzac, Darren's new accountant who's also gay, and keeps anyone not completely enamored with the sport in the world as we watch his love for the game grow. Peterson brings in a terrifyingly empathetic performance as Mungit. We know he's the bad guy here, but is he? And Peterson manages to keep us teetering on hating the bigot and wanting to give this broken human a hug. Nicholas Japaul Bernard comes into only a few scenes as Darren's Christian best friend Davey, but those scenes are key and quite powerful thanks in no small part to Bernard's commitment to the role. The entire ensemble is top notch, but I must mention Josh Kenji as Takeshi Kawabata, the non-English speaking, Japanese player who delivers some stunning moments including a monologue that will rip your heart out.
I could go on for days about how great this show was, but suffice to say that Strawberry Theatre Workshop has taken my favorite play and only solidified its place in my heart with their stellar production. And so, since they gave me such a wonderful Birthday present, I'm going to give one right back and with my three-letter rating system, give Strawberry Theatre Workshop's production of "Take Me Out" an exhilarated WOW. Seeing your favorite play again can be a gamble. But here, I won that bet and I urge you to put your money down on the Empires as well. You won't be sorry. The Empires are a sure thing!
"Take Me Out" from Strawberry Theatre Workshop performs at 12thAve Arts through June 22nd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.strawshop.org.