The title of Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out has several meanings. Most obviously, by adding the words “to the ballgame,” it becomes clear that the new production at The [email protected] is probably a play about baseball.
Well, it is and it isn’t.
The title is also a reference to coming “out of the closet,” as Major League outfielder Darren Lemming has done, in a very public way, at the story's outset. Because he's the high-profile outfielder for the Empires, Darren’s revelation is big news. Even his teammates didn’t know he was gay.
There are some bumpy moments — after all, baseball locker rooms are bastions of macho and masculinity — but the other guys eventually get over the whole thing, as the game — and life — go on.
Take Me Out, in fact, uses America’s pastime as a metaphor for life. Mason Marzac, Darren’s excitable business manager (and necessary comic relief from the show’s extremely heavy drama) says it best: Baseball is great because it’s played without a clock, and everybody gets a fair shake. And you can’t say that about any other game.
Hillbilly pitcher Shane Mungitt never got a fair shake from anyone until the Empires took him on. His parents died in a murder/suicide; he was raised in an orphanage and can barely string enough words together to make a sentence. He’s pure white trash, ignorant and bigoted, but he can throw a ball like nobody’s business.
Unfortunately, the team’s new closer is too stupid to know when to clam up, and he insults Darren — who is both gay and mixed-race — in a TV news interview.
That’s when all hell breaks loose, as tempers flare, nerves are frayed and friendships tested.
Halfway through the three-act play, the title takes on a third, decidedly sinister meaning.
Verbose and occasionally bellicose, Take Me Out won the Tony for Best Play in 2003. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
The Studio @620 production has many riveting moments. Bob Devin Jones’s taut direction serves Greenberg’s story well, and the locker room set design — credited to James Howell, Richard Agan and Kevin Daughtry — is suitably claustrophobic.
A good portion of the set is the team’s (working) shower room — and yes, for those of you who care about such things, at times nearly all of the all-male cast is completely naked.
The performance I saw started off slow, but got better and better. By the wallop-packing third act, the cast was on fire, every line landing a punch, every heated confrontation wringing with wet-eyed emotion.
This was especially true of actor Phillip Rankin, who plays Darren Lemming. In the early scenes, he played Darren like a preening prima donna — he’s a hot-shit player and a ridiculously rich man — and kind of a jerk. It didn’t seem, at first, that Rankin had a lot invested in his Darren. Halfway through the second act, however, I found myself rooting for him.
As Shane Mungitt, Amadeus Dameron comes off as a likable, innocuous dork — that is, until he starts spewing bile. His scene near the end, with Rankin and teammate Kippy Sunderstrom (Drew Smith), is a marvel of copacetic, emotional three-way performance art. It didn’t feel like acting.
Chris Rutherford plays the bumbling Marzac as an exasperated Paul Lynde; his scenes are highlights of the play. I particularly enjoyed the brief soliloquy from the team’s Japanese starter Takeshi Kawabata (Sheldon Gamabon), who has taken the baseball-as-life thing to heart: “When he wins, he lives. When he loses, he dies.”
In the end, of course, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. In Take Me Out, everyone’s playing as best they can. Without a clock. Without a net.
Bill DeYoung was born in St. Pete and spent the first 22 years of his life here. After a long time as an arts and entertainment journalist at newspapers around Florida (plus one in Savannah, Ga.) he returned to his hometown in 2014. He is the author of Skyway: The True Story of Tampa Bay’s Signature Bridge and the Man Who Brought it Down and the forthcoming Phil Gernhard, Record Man. Learn more here.