Take Me Out
What initially appears to be a light comedy about a top baseball player announcing that he is gay soon turns into something far more. This rich drama becomes a complex combination of comedy, thriller and tragedy which goes far beyond the narrow limits of baseball. It gives us a view of American society and in particular, the raw-blooded American male, from a very unusual standpoint.
Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain was the major success of the Donmar's first American Imports season. Take Me Out is probably even better. It is always a good sign when UK Equity allows a full American cast to transfer to London. There is little doubt that this play would have suffered if this had not been the case.
Darren Lemming (the name is not coincidental) is the top batter for the World Series-leading Empires baseball team. This is a happy, winning team and when he announces that he is gay ,shockwaves reverberate slowly. He is bright and well educated and there is soon a suspicion that the announcement is connected as much to his wish to leave the game as it is to help the gay community or relieve himself of pressure.
The man who is most likely to understand him is the team's philosopher, Kippy, who acts more as a commentator than a narrator throughout the play. He is the person who builds up the audience's suspense by telling us just so much of what will happen without letting the cat out of the bag. Neal Huff is very convincing as a man who is too embarrassed to tell his teammates that his college scholarship was an academic one and not for baseball. He is also not above partiality as he relates his tale.
After Darren's announcement, his relations with his teammates become very strained. There are lots of sarcastic comments and each of them has to address issues of their own latent homosexuality. Other matters also boil to the surface, particularly racially motivated issues that can be covered up when a team is winning and the dressing room is calm but reappear with dissension.
The second catalyst for all of this is a new pitcher straight out of the junior leagues. Frederick Weller is very amusing as the bigoted hick who may be the best pitcher alive but is not a very nice person. While he is generally ineloquent, with a microphone in hand his views become embarrassingly clear. One of the major subjects of the play is his motivations. Is he an innocent victim of society or something far more dangerous?
While Darren is struggling with his teammates, his personal life is also affected. He is suddenly dumped by his business manager and foisted on to a third rate alternative. Luckily, Denis O'Hare's Mason turns out to be a sympathetic and very funny bosom pal for the increasingly lonely Darren.
As the play develops, it becomes apparent that the ripples on the surface are hiding a monster of great proportions below. It is not only his business manager that is deserting Darren but almost everybody else that he values as a colleague or a friend.
Under the direction of Joe Mantello who draws sympathetic, rounded performances but keeps the action whipping along, the acting is universally good with Daniel as Darren, Neil Huff as Kippy and Frederick Weller all outstanding. In addition, smaller cameos from Denis O'Hare and Kohl Sudduth show great comic skills. They do justice to one of Greenberg's greatest skills - the ability to draw credible characters with minimal effort. This applies almost as much to the minor players as to the leading protagonists, each of whom is very well realised.
The set designed by Scott Pask combines baseball diamond with locker room, complete with state-of-the-art communal shower unit. It is both effective and functional helping to create a ball park atmosphere that might have seemed beyond what was possible on the London stage.
Take Me Out eventually builds to a dramatic and tragic denouement. It asks questions about the whole of American society and not just the world of baseball. This is baseball as a metaphor for life and the Donmar can be very proud that it has imported such a valuable and entertaining play. It is one of the theatrical highlights of the summer so far.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher