Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Take Me Out (Broadway)

♣♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

At the height of his sports career, baseball superstar Darren Lemming (Jesse Williams) surprises the world with an announcement. He is gay. Such declaration of his sexuality causes ripples in the dynamics with his team members, some of whom are caught unawares as to how to react or treat him after his admission. Close friend and team member Kippy Sunderstrom (Patrick J. Adams) believes that the team’s problems appear to emerge from that event, while some other members are not even that careful in spewing words of bigotry towards their teammate. After a controversial TV interview with new pitcher and southern simpleton Shane Mungitt (Micheal Oberholtzer) who uses the F word to describe him, Lemming must decide whether to weather the storm or just take the easy route out by retiring early and escaping from it all.

The usher asked me to turn off my phone in front of him at the door, after which he electronically locked it in a Yondr case before giving it back to me. I was a bit annoyed because I usually take a photo of the stage as a header for my theater review on my blog. When Williams took off his shirt, pants, and undies in the first act, I understood why. When Adams literally took a shower with five other actors onstage in the second act, I knew why. Imagine having to mitigate a social media deluge of candid cast dick pics if they weren’t that strict.

The last and only play I’ve seen with full nudity was Equus. Take Me Out has three nude scenes. Two are long and harmless post-baseball game locker and shower scenes with lots of dialogue as if the actors’ manhood were not in full display for everyone to see, because that’s totally normal in the sports world. I mean the post-game locker room nudity, not the theater voyeurism. The third and final scene is a trigger warning pivotal to plot development which can be quite disturbing if you’ve experienced something similar in real life. If you are not comfortable seeing guys onstage in all their naked glory, this show is not for you.

But don’t let the D distract from the real agenda of this revival. As a narrative about the LGBTQ+ community, this is a much-needed addition to the corpus of theater material in hopes of more exclusivity for this specific demographic. Scandal in the entertainment and sports world is not a new theme either onstage or on film. While some will dismiss this as yet another woke attempt to liberalize the current zeitgeist, we must ask ourselves, if it wasn’t really needed, would it even be here? Suffice it to say that we have a long way to go, and Take Me Out fleshes out the particulars as some sort of reminder to all. Homophobia. Masculinity. Racism. In sports. Take your pick.

Acting-wise, Adams does a great job in his Broadway debut as the fast-talking Kippy who serves as the de facto narrator, albeit an unreliable one. While he is not really at the crux of the story, he serves as our anchor to what happens within the play while also harboring his own agenda that affects the development of the plot and some characters’ fates. Think of him as that friend you believe you’ve always known, only to find out the hard way that he is more than capable of stabbing you in the back.

As for Williams, he is a perfect fit for the role of a sports superstar in the midst of controversy. He has the wit and the physicality for the role, and the way he navigates the stage suggests that he is no neophyte to theater either. He portrays Lemming with a certain kind of cool and charisma but with flaws that are immediately obvious to the observer. That aside, the character is not really given a lot of opportunity to shine and has to be complemented by his co-actors most of the time to be tolerable.

It is Ferguson’s Marzac who steals every scene he is in without much effort, perhaps thanks to the way the character is written. Mason babbles in most of his scenes and while his hilarious slur of words seems to appear nonsensical, when you actually listen to what he has to say, a lot of them actually do make sense. In the end, a character like that needs not be stripped literally of his clothes to make an impact. His lines will eventually do that for him.

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