Baseball fans and non-baseball fans alike can’t help but walk away with a greater appreciation of the sport after seeing Take Me Out at 1st Stage. And that’s largely courtesy of Mason Marzac.
He may be a minor character—an accountant and business manager assigned to take charge of the finances of Darren Lemming, the superstar ballplayer at the heart of the play. But Marzac (Adam Downs) also embodies playwright Richard Greenberg’s thoughtful, complex appreciation of the sport. The audience watches as the flamboyant and socially stilted Marzac falls madly in love with the game; a passionate monologue from the character compares baseball to American democracy, and baseball wins out. Marzac’s conversion—and Downs’s infectious enthusiasm—is one of the sheer pleasures of this funny, poignant, and at times troubling play.
Take Me Out is, of course, about more than baseball metaphors. The award-winning work (Greenberg took home the 2003 Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize finalist designation, among several other awards) takes a look at what happens when the arrogant ballplayer Lemming, the highest-paid and most talented player in the league, makes the decision—almost casually—to come out as gay to the general public. His teammates, for the most part, do not take the news well, but their reaction has as much to do with Lemming’s standoffish bravado as their own discomfort with his sexuality.
Lemming’s act sets off a chain of events that reaches a tragic conclusion by the work’s sobering second act. Along the way, it introduces characters that are complicated and unpredictable, whether it’s Lemming’s reprehensible yet pitiable redneck rival Shane Mungitt (Ryan Kincaid, giving a powerful turn), or the aloof Japanese pitcher Takeshi Kawabata (Jacob Yeh). As Lemming, Jaysen Wright does a fine job of making the protagonist remote and unknowable—yet compelling—until his resolve finally begins to crack when circumstances push him to the edge. Sun King Davis is an easy, comfortable presence as Kippy Sunderstrom, the play’s narrator and a natural leader whose affection and sympathy both for Lemming and the troubled Mungitt get him into trouble.
When Take Me Out premiered, the sheer amount of male nudity it contained created its share of controversy. In director Doug Wilder’s production more than a decade later, it merely feels like a natural consequence of the show’s locker-room setting. Some of Wilder’s decisions are a little problematic—early use of slow motion feels stilted, a pivotal scene between Mungitt and Lemming is blocked in a confusing way—but these are quibbles. The 1st Stage production succeeds in creating moments that are alternately dramatically tense, uneasily sympathetic, and hysterically funny. Through it all it, Take Me Out remains an unconventional, sincere, heartfelt ode to America’s pastime.
Take Me Out is at 1st Stage through October 12. Running time is about two and a half hours, with one intermission. Tickets ($28) are available through the theater’s website. Find Missy Frederick on Twitter at @bylinemjf.