Reviewed Performance 2/12/2012
Reviewed by Christopher Soden, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
You can't help but admire the ingenuity of Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out, using baseball to examine what it means to be a queer man in American culture. Whether or not you gravitate towards the world of sports, baseball seems an accurate metaphor for convivial maleness, it does not encourage or allow aggression. Darren Lemming has risen to the heroic role of star player for the Empires. Having reached a pinnacle of glory and achievement, he discloses his queer orientation to the world at large, in a press conference. This sets the story in motion.
In some ways Take Me Out feels extremely contrived, yet it's not contrivance itself that might be considered a flaw, but only when it becomes too obvious. That being said, I'm not sure this fable on the psychodynamics of virility, the cost of being content in one's own male skin, could have worked without Greenberg's precise manipulation of the elements. Any work of art that explores homoerotic contact must, by its very nature, consider the realm of gender itself. What it means to connect to someone of the same gender, Platonically or sexually. Darren Lemming feels the need to declare his otherness to the world, frankness his most virtuous and aggravating quality.
Darren understands the distinction between being who we are and what the world expects us to be. He plainly declares that he likes a lot of people but loves no one. He doesn't sound, hostile, exactly. His best friend, Kippy, is probably one of the few he has any caring feelings for at all, and it's obvious their attachment isn't sexual. Yet even Kippy (possibly the wisest character in the play) feels the need to consistently clarify this fact. As if the wrong impression eclipses reality. As if the possibility of erotic spark casts everything they do in a different light.
By setting Take Me Out in the changing room /shower of a baseball team, Greenberg gives the characters an activity to distract them when the potential for something as subversive as queer energy taints the pure setting of brotherly care. And for all his warrior-like hubris and autonomy, Darren tries to preserve this purity. He has no lovers, he apparently never has, there is nothing sexy about the "workplace" for him and he sees through the notion that communal showers imply some kind of de facto opportunism for a gay identified male. Greenberg is sharp enough to suggest far more difficulty with those who raise the question.
Greenberg has written numerous other plays including The Dazzle, Three Days of Rain andThe Violet Hour (which touched upon male intimacy). He has a gift for blending the cerebral, the poetic, the fanciful, the passionate and the mammalian. I was surprised by Take Me Out'slack of finesse with the intellectual aspect of his script, it felt a bit muddled and unwieldy. I suspect it was Greenberg's attempt to demonstrate the failure of language to create understanding between males, as well the lack of mapped territory when it comes to navigating same-gender intimacy, in the broadest sense. Three members of the team speak foreign languages, yet rarely does anyone feel compelled to reach past this chasm that alienates them.
The strange equation that says what they do is who they are isn't working for them. But they can't go beyond that, because they've confused closeness with degeneracy. To a large degree, Greenberg would seem to be implying that despite the strides we've made towards enlightenment, we still have miles to go before we sleep.
It's unclear if it's Darren's disclosure that causes a slump for the Empires, but whatever the reason, a new player is brought in, Shane Mungett. Shane is not only the archetypical homophobe, he's a quintessential caricature of machismo. He's not just non-verbal, he's practically preverbal and makes Larry the Cable Guy look positively evolved by comparison.
He's damaged goods. His parents died when his dad murdered his mother and himself, he spent most of his childhood in orphanages. He's pretty much the textbook case of why ignorant, disadvantaged, self-diminishing individuals embrace bigotry and intolerance. His self-esteem is almost entirely wrapped up in the fact that he's a white heterosexual guy who pitches like a champion. You don't need a crystal ball to see that a collision between Shane and Darren is imminent. In between these polarized comrades are Kippy and Mars, two moderates in the highly charged politics of male validation and ecstasy.
There are subtle surprises in Take Me Out and some beautiful passages. Kippy talks about the loss of warmth, nurturing and spontaneity between men. A loss of innocence, akin to Adam and Eve in the Garden, before the "serpent" told them they were naked. It's a marvelous insight because it calls into question how men feel about sex itself, and what is implied in the ritual of erotic communication. When we think of sex as another language. I'm unclear whether Kippy explains this after Darren comes out, or Shane tells the media (in effect) sexualized men are predatory by nature. Greenberg summons all these various elements of male gender identity and how we grope for meaningful connection whether we know we want it or not. Take Me Outworks best when the intellectual gives way to emotional and intuitive. It's smart and humane, if perhaps a bit tentative. All in all, though, a phenomenal experience.
Andrews Cope plays Shane with much dedication, ferocity and sympathy, without ever mitigating Shane's unseemly qualities. This must be quite demanding, and Cope does an incredible, excellent job. Kevin Moore is reflective, relaxed and moving as Kippy, the narrator who lends the show some lucidity and balance. Art Kedzierski is quite amusing as Mars, the lighthearted financier who provides some comic respite. Lloyd Harvey is compelling and intriguing as Darren Lemming, the enigmatic, dry, disenchanted hero who refuses to pander to a reductive gay stereotype. Darren is not always ingratiating, but Harvey helps us grasp the nature of his excruciating, personal struggle.
TAKE ME OUT
playing through February 19th, 2012.
Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, 75219