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A CurtainUp Review
Take Me Out

-- Take Me Out In New York
by Elyse Sommer

London Review by Lizzie Loveridge

Take Me Out
Frederick Weller as Shane Mungitt, Neal Huff as Kippy Sunderstrom and Daniel Sunjata as Darren Leeming (Photo: Mark Douet)
{God}He Makes Himself known in stupid stuff. Trivia. Baseball. The Grammies. But especially baseball! -- Darren explaining that his making his sexual preferences public was not brave because he feels Godlike, and that nothing bad is going to happen to him because he's in baseball.

Home Run! Richard Greenberg's multi-layered play continues to grab all the bases as it did during its premiere at London's Donmar Warehouse. Joe Mantello has brought his fictional Empire team safely to shore with all bases covered by the same outstanding eleven-member cast, and with the superb stage values right at home on the Anspacher Theater's thrust stage.

Take Me Out may be tagged as a baseball play, but you need nothing more than an appreciation of the game's iconic standing as the all-American sport to enjoy it Richard Greenberg, who managed to grow up without the usual American boy's passion for the game, proves that it's never too late to be smitten, as he was at age forty-two. But, while Greenberg uses baseball as a metaphor for this country's overall love affair with celebrity and the slippery slope of multiculturalism and friendship, his real love affair is with words. That love affair has seeded a drama that balances comedy and tragedy; action with sharp and often brilliantly poetic verbal interaction.

Since Lizzie Loveridge summed up the details of the tragi-comedy when she saw it at the co-producing Donmar, I refer you to her review on this page. (just click London Review).

In a play full of outstanding innings, it's hard to single out individual scenes and actors. Neil Huff, who seems to get better each time I see him has moved to yet another level as Kippy Sunderstrom, the intellectual who wandered onto the diamond. His friendship with the team's charismatic out-of-the-closet star, Darren Lemming, is severely tested when he secretly and hopelessly falls " into custody" of bigoted, cleanliness fixated hillbilly pitcher Shane Mungitt.

Daniel Sunjata's Darren personifies the man of color "routinely adulated by people of pallor" from whom "mess does not flow." Conversely, Frederick Weller's Shane (think John Rocker) embodies "a man from whom mess does flow constantly." While Kippy serves as the play's chief chronicler, there are numerous soliloquies, the best and funniest going to Dennis O'Hare who comes close to stealing the show as the sexually underachieving, but home hitting financial planner Mason Marzac, the playwright's stand-in for the newly smitten baseball fan. His speech explaining how baseball has captured his imagination as a "perfect metaphor for hope in a Democratic society" rivals Henry's cricket bat solo in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing. It is a tour de force for both actor and author. The quote at the top of Lizzie Loveridge's review warrants a fuller excerpt since it sums up the play's theme:

"And baseball is better than Democracy--or at least than Democracy as it's practiced in this country--because unlike Democracy, baseball acknowledges loss. While conservatives tell you, leave things alone and no one will lose, and liberals tell you, interfere a lot and no one will lose, baseball says: someone will lose. Not only says it -- but insists upon it! So that baseball achieves the tragic vision that Democracy evades. . . Democracy is lovely, but baseball's more mature."

While some of the speeches are quite lengthy, they're never dull. Greenberg creates characters who love to talk and who talk intelligently. When they're not bright they express their foolishness smartly. In short, this is not a low hit snoozing and snacking game but a high scoring, stand up and cheer multi-hitter. The verbal home runs begin with the clever allusionary title which, besides the famous song, refers to the self-confident and slily named Lemming's taking himself out of the sexual pretend game and Shane's ominous threat "to take someone out."

If there seems to be a trend towards more extended, full frontal and every other view nudity, this is also accompanied by having that nudity mean something in terms of character development rather than just for its own sake. The nude scenes here-- especially the group shower (a staging coup with real water!)-- are integral rather than gratuitous. Typical of baseball games, the show has a sponsor, listed in the program and announced at the beginning of the performance (Beats re-naming the Anspacher The Banc of America Public Theater!).

This home run of a show is likely to win Greenberg the Pulitzer that his fine Three Days of Rain lost to Wit. It also marks the beginning of what looks like a win-win-win season reminiscent of the Public's glory years -- with David Mamet's Boston Marriage (already a hit in Boston and London some seasons back) next in the lineup, to be followed by a new play with music by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks, a musical based on the life of the late artist Keith Haring to be directed by George C. Wolfe-- and, of course, a play by Shakespeare . Looks like a good season to take advantage of their five, four and three play special deals.

Take Me Out
Written by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Joe Mantello

With: Neal Huff, Daniel Sunjata, Frederick Weller, Dominic Fumusa, Kohl Sudduth, James Yaegashi, Gene Gabriel, Robert M Jimenez, Kevin Carroll, Denis O'Hare, Joe Lisi
Set Design: Scott Pask
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Sound Design: Janet Kalas
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Joseph Papp Public Theater/Anspacher, 420 Lafayette St, web site or 212-239-6200.
8/23/02-10/27/02 (a pre-opening extension in response to ticket demand, followed by yet another extension to 11/24/02); opening 9/05/02
Tues-Sun @ 8pm, Sat and Sun at 2pm, Sun at 7pm--$45
.Running time: Two hours 45 minutes, includes 2 intermissionsr
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on October 4th performance.

---Our Original London Review by Lizzie Loveridge

Baseball is better than democracy.
-- Mason Marzac
I feel privileged to have been one of the first people to see Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg's new play which is set among the members of a New York baseball team. Coming to America's national game as a complete rookie, I am conscious that some of the finer analogies would have passed me by like a speeding ball, but nonetheless, I can say that Take Me Out struck me as one of the best plays I have seen this year. Coupled with Greenberg's skilful writing is the exciting direction of Joe Mantello, whose work Londoners last saw in Neil la Bute's bash. Mantello recreates all the thrill of the great sporting occasion, the lights, the music, the singleness of purpose to underline the essential theme of Take Me Out, this portrayal of baseball as a metaphor for the United States of America.

In a narrated play, Greenberg paints the picture of the members of New York's fictional Empire baseball team, their manager and their fans. The play's central character Darren Lemming (Daniel Sunjata) has everything. He is a brilliant sportsman, handsome, bright, at the top of his game, a man of colour, a genuinely warm person and everyone's hero. He also happens to prefer men sexually and it is his sudden "coming out" to the press, with no warning to his manager or fellow players, that is the catalyst for Greenberg's play. Narrated by the very intelligent Kippy Sunderstrom (Neal Huff) we see the various reactions to Lemming's decision from the other members of the team, from a couple of fans, one of whom happens to be Lemming's business manager, Mason Marzac (Denis O'Hare). With the Empire's new recruit, pitcher and Southerner, Shane Mungitt (Frederick Weller) comes deeply entrenched attitudes of racism and homophobia which impact to change Darren Lemming's perfect life.

Leeming's announcement is met with suspicion by many and open hostility from some. A few welcome his announcement. There is an amusing scene when a liberal fan writes to Leeming and tells him that he would be proud for his son to know him. Another more serious and sad when Leeming's best friend, an African American player on a rival team, Davey Battle (Kevin Carroll) cold shoulders Leeming because Battle has a church led antipathy to homosexuality.

The performances bring Greenberg's characters to life. Leeming, himself, sympathetically played by Daniel Sunjata, a handsome innocent in many ways who throws himself to the wolves in his courageous decision to reveal his sexuality. Bull necked, mullet haired Frederick Weller as Shane Mungitt shows us the deprived background of this player who has reached the top despite the worst start in life and a childhood spent moving from foster home to foster home, but his success belies his ignorance. It is Mungitt's stupidity and intransigence which provides the play's conflict. I liked too, Denis O'Hare as Leeming's manager and zealous convert to the game of baseball who is the voice for the fan base. Neal Huff has a sagacious presence as friend to Darren Leeming and peacemaker.

With some scenes staged in the team's shower room, there is nudity in this play which is dramatically justified and the real water onstage convinces as only the real thing can. I liked the dramatic scene changes, the use of music and lights, the scenes on the pitch all add to the play, the careful detail of costume too mean that I cannot fault the play dramatically. There were moments when I was reminded of the rich texture of Warren Leight's Sideman in the narrated picture of an aspect of American life. I would like to believe that the Southerner Shane Mungitt is representative of a dying breed, that no-one could hold such dehumanising views, but this is the reality of the ugly underbelly of the United States. With plays like Take Me Out, Proof and Jesus Hopped the A Train, this has been a wonderful season of American Imports at the Donmar Warehouse and the best good bye present Sam Mendes could give to London.

Links to Richard Greenberg's other plays
Three Days of Rain
Everett Beekin
The Dazzle
Hurrah at Last

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th June 2002 performance at the Donmar Warehouse
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