Some experts believe that as much as 10% of the human race is homosexual. For professional baseball players and their fans, this means that one in 10 players on each of your beloved teams--approximately one position on every nine-position playing field--is playing for the OTHER team, if you know what I'm sayin'. Of course, you don't hear much from this segment of the gay community, but as retired outfielder Billy Bean's recent excellent memoir Going the Other Way proves, they most assuredly (and very, very quietly) exist, living a tentative day-to-day existence in what is perhaps one of the most homophobic environments imaginable: a major league dugout.
Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out bravely addresses the seldom-addressed subject of homosexuality in baseball, but doesn't get much farther--it's a hip, fluffy thing dressed up in the very latest of fashionable subject matter. History will perhaps look back on it as the play that opened the door to merging sexual commentary with professional athletics, but much better plays will walk through that door, God willing.
A subtle playwright who excels at holding subtle relationships under a microscope (his Three Days of Rain is a masterpiece of quiet familial strife), Greenberg stomps on his material here with clumsy bombast. The gay baseball player in Take Me Out, Darren Lemming (Dennis Mosley), isn't just any gay baseball player, he's the BEST gay baseball player, a young, brash, future Hall of Famer who announces his sexuality to the world without a trace of doubt or shame. Imagine if a superstar like Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez abruptly did the same thing, and you'll have an idea of the premise this play is operating under. It's titillating, if utterly fantastical, food for thought--but bafflingly, the protagonist in Greenberg's play isn't the gay baseball player in question, but a wizened old veteran, Kippy Sunderstrom (Scott Coopwood), who also serves as narrator to the story, and who comments on the proceedings with witty aplomb. As the liberal, well-read Kippy, the intelligent and wiry Scott Coopwood is typically stellar, upstaging the already neglected predicament of Lemming, which is not abetted by Seattle import Dennis Mosley's bland, uninspired performance.
Kippy's scene-stealing is indicative of Take Me Out as a whole. Much of the script also centers around Tim True's Mason Marzac, Lemming's wide-eyed, androgynous accountant. Like Coopwood, True is a stellar actor, speaking here with the sped-up nervousness of a true geek, and breathing fresh life into Greenberg's rather trite baseball ruminations ("Baseball is unrelentingly meaningful," he says at one point… Sheesh). He's a supporting character intended to provide an outsider's voice on the controversial proceedings, but True makes him into the star of the show.
If Take Me Out was just about Kippy and Mason, it would be a classic, but it's supposed to be about the whole gay thing, too, an issue that Greenberg, and this production directed by M. Burke Walker, addresses on a sitcom level of nuance. The confused and harmful dugout dynamics that would most assuredly proceed Lemming's announcement manifest in a ridiculous, cartoonishly stupid hick pitcher, Shane (Chris Murray), who doesn't mind the "niggers" on the team, but can't abide the "faggots." When the stupid hillbilly beans a rival player in the head and kills him, Take Me Out slips into soap opera territory, replete with a brain-hurting melodramatic shouting sequence between Coopwood, Murray, and Lemming.
To make the heavy-handed handling of its homosexual trappings complete, Take Me Out calls for many nude shower scenes, which director Walker eagerly employs. These moments are obviously intended to show the awkwardness that would occur when a bunch of naked alpha-males suddenly find a naked homo in their midst, but, in a serious flub, Greenberg begins the play with Lemming already out of the closet, and so the audience never gets to see what it was like when everything was nice and hetero and okay. Deprived of the should-have-been fascinating before-and-after comparison, the ubiquitous naked men feel superfluous--shock value tactics glued on to truss up an already trussed up situation. Gay or no, nobody really wants to see a limp, wet penis flopping around under bright theater lights if they don't have to. In Take Me Out, the audience is treated to many wet penises, but not even the big ones can add girth to a play that is inherently flaccid.