GAYS ON BROADWAY? SAY HEY
Richard Greenberg’s play, “Take Me Out,” opened on Broadway last night, after having had a succesful run at Joe Papp’s Public Theater last fall. Here is an excerpt from Ben Brantely’s review today in the Times.
["Take Me Out" is] the story of Darren Lemming (Daniel Sunjata), a god among baseball players and the star of a team called the Empires, who sets off a complicated chain of ultimately tragic events when he publicly announces that he is gay. This allows Mr. Greenberg to consider – in language that gives joltingly bombastic dimensions to locker room humor – big, big subjects like sexual and racial prejudice, moral responsibility, public versus personal identities and the inability of people to ever truly know one another.
Whew! That’s a roster that would have overloaded even Sophocles. And in trying to give theatrical life to each theme, Mr. Greenberg winds up sacrificing fully developed characters and credible plotting to Ideas with a capital I. Despite a vivid ensemble of actors who embody a lively spectrum of bat wielders, “Take Me Out” ultimately fails by the dizzyingly high standards it sets for itself as a metaphysical mystery play.
But the director, Joe Mantello, has sensibly chosen to emphasize the play’s less ponderous aspects. These include zippy (if improbably polysyllabic) dialogue; a hypnotic narrative that does much to disguise the potholes in the plot and is appealingly delivered by Neal Huff as a shortstop with the worldview of a novelist; and a host of good-looking guys standing around naked for the show’s already notorious shower scenes.
…But ultimately, it’s [Denis] O’Hare who owns the evening. A lonely, emotionally constipated gay man whose life takes on meaning when he takes on Darren as a client, Mr. O’Hare’s Mason becomes baseball’s dream cheerleader. To see him bend and blossom before the mysteries of the game is a bit like watching Cary Grant, in his priggish mode, being thawed out by a madcap Katharine Hepburn in “Bringing Up Baby.”
And what an enchanting and enchanted take on baseball Mr. Greenberg has created for Mason, both passionately personal and lyrically analytical. It’s a sensibility that is so smart, raw and sincere all at once that you may find tears in your eyes in the first act as Mason describes the raptures of “the home-run trot.”
There is also a moment in the second act that turns baseball into something like grand opera. The white light of night games floods the stage as the ensemble members act out an evocative baseball ballet, and Mr. O’Hare waxes into hallelujah-like paeans to the game. “Maybe I’ve had a ridiculous life,” he says, “but this is one of its best nights.”
The scene is one of the most stirring on Broadway right now. It’s an unconditional, all-American epiphany that, in these days of fretful ambivalence, is something to cherish.
You have to wonder when gay ballplayers will feel comfortable enough to come out. Homosexuality is one of the last great taboos to grip the game (and sporting culture in general), and it would take a man with considerable personality to publicly address the issue. Hopefully, it will be a star player. I wouldn’t hold my breath on it happening any time soon, though. Whoever makes the move will have to be a brave individual. It won’t be someone as touchy as Robbie Alomar, that’s for sure.