DC: Take Me Out Flies Medium-High at Studio Theatre
Baseball, so my dad used to tell me, is more than a game, it's a microcosm--a metaphor in which all the dramas of the human heart are played out to the blare of organ music, crinkling Cracker Jack wrappers and the smacking contact of wood against hard leather. I was unconvinced; it looked like a bunch of guys hitting a ball and running around a field to me.Well, my old man might have been on to something. Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg's pointed fastball of a tragicomedy, sees baseball as not just symbolic of life, but of democracy itself--designed both for equal opportunity success and for the inherent failures of an imperfect system. In Take Me Out, however, the failures are not those of a foul ball but of a locker room society that seethes with homophobia, racism and ignorance.The play (which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2003) is densely packed with Big Language as well as Big Themes, and in fact, the only small thing about Studio Theatre's uneven but ultimately satisfying production is the set--Daniel Conway's sleek arrangement of diamond-configured thrust stage, metal shower stalls and rows of electric stadium lights that flash at opportune (and often comic) intervals. There is a Big Performance, too, at the heart of the production. It is that of Rick Foucheux as Mason "Mars" Marzac, the accountant who guides star hitter Darren Lemming (M.D. Walton) through the firestorm of in-doubt testosterone that results from his coming out at a press conference. While there is immediate tension and sudden self-consciousness in the locker room, a racial angle soon develops as the unlettered Shane Mungitt (Jake Suffian) drops some rather un-PC words that drive the action towards tragedy.
As the nebbishy Mars, a recent convert to baseball junkie-dom, Foucheux waxes hilariously poetic in monologues that raise the sport to mythology and its players to demigods. A bundle of nervous energy, he achieves a balletic awkwardness as he flounces about the stage (at one point, with a huge foam hand). It's an intensely physical performance, and at times, it's a bit over-the-top--but Foucheux performs the role with poignance as well as comic assurance. The character's fondness for Darren and passion for the game can't help but rub off on the audience.Walton, as the tarnished golden boy of the fictional Empires, perhaps takes Darren's self-described invincibility too literally at first and slightly over-emphasizes the character's glib bravado. Yet as the tragedy unspools, he convincingly taps into the layers of fear, anger and doubt hidden beneath the mixed-raced character's swaggering surface. Jeorge Bennett Watson is an intense Davey Battle, Darren's best friend. Suffian, however, is wrenching as the inarticulate hillbilly whose racism stems from ignorance more so than hatred; prompted to emotional nakedness by Tug Coker's Kippy Sunderstrom (who narrates), his outraged despair rings hard and true. Coker, in turn, effectively conveys his character's idealistic confidence in the power of open speech, and his disappointment when candor leads to conflict. The sad-eyed Suffian deftly avoids the snag of stereotype in his characterization, but other actors are less fortunate in doing so. It's not always completely their fault. While Greenberg writes with great fluency, Kippy and Darren are almost over-eloquent. Kippy (a deposed academic) calls a situation "Kafkaesque" while the exaggeratedly Dukes of Hazzard-ish Toddy Koovitz (Joel Ruben Ganz) is in the dark as to what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Director Kirk Jackson sometimes struggles to find tonal footing in the first act; emphasizing the humor of the dialogue, some of the dramatic tension is muffled in laughter. It's a hilarious play, but the laughs should heighten the tension just as much as lighten it (the former does happen in a locker room amid the high drama of dropped soap). Yet Jackson swings back into gear for an explosive (and yes, often funny) nail-biter of a second act. Costumes and lighting (by Reggie Ray and Michael Lincoln, respectively) were unobtrusively effective. Sound cues were missing for the first half hour of the play, but the technical difficulties were thankfully resolved. The added audience sound effect of enthusiastic applause wouldn't have been out of place at any ballgame--metaphor-enhanced or otherwise.