In Richard Greenberg’s Tony Award-winning play from 2002, Darren Lemming, the cocky star center fielder of the Empires, makes the decision to come out to his teammates and his public. The news is well-received by Kippy Sunderstrum, his best friend on the team, but the reaction of the other players varies between hesitant tolerance and hostility.
Despite their attempts to accept Darren’s news with an open mind, Kippy wisely observes that the atmosphere in the Empires’ locker room has changed – now everyone must always behave like men, whereas before they could goof around with each other with no fear of being considered “queer.”
The discomfort escalates when a new pitcher, Shane Mungitt, is recruited from a rural farm team to save the Empires from a ruinous season. Shane is a talented thrower but also an undereducated rube who’s been taught that homosexuals and black people are cut from the same filthy cloth. When he is interviewed on television after a game, he says some nasty things about Darren’s race and sexuality, and Kippy – who feels compassion for Shane’s miserable upbringing – tries to mend the fences between them, which only makes matters worse.
Greenberg’s three-act production is an ambitious project for any theater company to take on under the best of circumstances, and Rise Above Theater Movement’s version is a mixture of heartfelt amateurism and problematic staging leavened by some good performances.
The most apparent problem is the timing – this already lengthy play is performed rather sluggishly, and the comedy in the first act is virtually obliterated by flaws in delivery and the inability of the actors (and the director) to recognize where the laughs are.
That said, there are some bright spots. Jeremy Parise makes for an earnest Kippy, who serves as the narrator and moral backbone of the piece, and Sean Cameron-Young is a charming and cocky Darren.
Patrick Hilt is terrific as Mason Marzac, Darren’s geeky gay money manager who develops an unexpected passion for the game. His character is based on the playwright’s own experiences, and Greenberg has written some wonderful baseball lover’s monologues for him that Hilt delivers with infectious enthusiasm.
Best of all is Trip Langley as Shane, the poorly-spoken naif whose inbred prejudices become the source of the play’s tragedy. Langley manages to imbue a potentially single-dimension character with levels of shading that allow us to see the frustrated person inside and even feel some pity for him.
Director Kenne Guillory’s “theater in-the-round” staging is effective, but the PowerPoint projection on the back wall, advertising upcoming productions, is a bust. And theater is all about language…something he needs to work on more carefully with his actors.
Take Me Out plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays through June 10 at the Sky Lounge, 4930 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood. Reservations can be made online.