America’s game

“Democracy is great, but baseball is more mature.”  That’s one of many memorable lines in Richard Greenberg’s 2002 Broadway hit Take Me Out, which opened last weekend at the San Pedro Playhouse. Anyone dismayed by the current state of American democracy (or baseball) is sure to enjoy being taken out of that reality and thrust into the poetic realism of this production.

The story focuses on major-league star Darren Lemming (an interesting name choice, considering his career path), who — after leading his team to two World Series championships and landing a $160 million contract — decides to announce to the world that he is gay. Tension is immediately present, but not in Darren — he speaks of himself as God-like and believes that his personal revelation will change nothing, so long as he remains invincible on the field. He’s already mastered the challenge of being biracial; what could be so tough about being both gay and a jock? Actor Butch Anderson portrays Darren’s cocksure swagger and superstar focus with believable charisma, and the supporting players effectively convey the awkwardness of being in his shadow.

Supreme confidence is hard to maintain, however, when you realize that you need your team, and your team is struggling. Darren’s disclosure has changed their dynamics, and they suddenly find themselves in need of another “closer.” Enter relief pitcher Shane Mungitt, played by Rob Barron, whose Uncle Cletus haircut telegraphs a slightly less than urbane worldview. After weeks of taciturn triumphs on the mound, Shane reveals at a press conference that he’s harboring every form of noxious prejudice that can be put into words you’re not supposed to say — and he says them all, all at once. Shane’s brutish brevity is balanced by Darren’s best friend on the team, Kippy Sunderstrom (Mark D. Hicks), who serves as the narrator and commentator, offering perspective that’s far too philosophical to be believable as actual locker-room talk. But this is, after all, a play, and Hicks keeps the audience engaged and the action moving.

The stand-out, so to speak, is Darren’s business manager, Mason Marzac, a gay man from Chelsea who embodies all the stereotypes (think Jack from Will and Grace) and yet doesn’t feel like a caricature, thanks to Andrew Thornton’s pitch-perfect balance of enthusiasm and restraint. Mason’s infatuation with Darren becomes a fascination with the sport and its place in American culture, and in one stirring monologue, he helps us understand how baseball is the perfect metaphor for the kind of life to which we all aspire and the kind of respect we all desire, irrespective of which team we play for.

The cast can’t evade all of the script’s caricatures, however. As Darren’s best friend from a rival team, the likewise allegorically named Davey Battle is a shallow soul. He’s a devoutly religious family man who tells Darren that he needs to “speak his truth” if he’s ever to be happy off the field. When Darren mistakes this advice as encouragement to come out, the two men have a falling out that goes over the top. Veteran actor Vincent Contrell (Hardy) plays Davey with a Shakespearean grandeur that befits his manner of speaking, but — as with much of Kippy’s dialogue — the words don’t seem to fit the setting.

The set, however, does fit the setting, making very effective use of limited space. The locker room becomes the field with the clever trick of bringing up the lights to simulate a stadium, and director Frank Latson utilizes four entrance and exit points that evoke a diamond around the stage. The pacing is brisk but not rushed, much like the game itself, and the bleacher-like seating makes the audience feel more like a crowd (the concession stand adjacent to the theater adds to the illusion). This is a confident production of a well-written play, performed by a very committed cast. If they don’t win, it’s a shame.

Take Me Out
Through Jul 19
The Cellar Theater
San Pedro Playhouse
(210) 733-7258