Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg

L - R Will Bethencourt and Barry Brisco - Photo Shari Barrett 

By Joe Straw

There is a lot of male nudity in this production. Most of the action takes place in a locker room.  If this offends you… Time out! This play is about baseball.  It’s baseball! Baseball: a game of threes and nines, which features actors playing in their prime, and coincidently it all happens in a small black box venue just west of Vine - which parenthetically - rhymes with nine.  You’ll see a lot of that in baseball.  

So think baseball, bring your heart, and bring your backstories, and all the thoughts that accompany baseball, because when it comes down to it, you are part of the game.   Come out, or don’t come out, but buy your tickets and see Take Me Out.  – Narrator.

Plus One Productions presents Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg and directed by Emanuel Millar at the Flight Theatre in Hollywood through February 2, 2014.

Take Me Out, the 2003 Tony Award Winner, is a very satisfying production, with marvelous performances by young, enthusiastic actors that will even greet you on your way out of the theatre.  And isn’t that the way it should always be.

The play starts, at home plate, with the idea that God is responsible for all of this.  And with the sun breaking through the clouds, in centerfield, a ray of sunlight shines only on the being that is Darren Lemming (Barry Brisco) and he is God, not a baseball God, just God. 

And today, in uniform, Darren is shinning his million-dollar smile, holding his golden glove as he magically spins the ball with a dramatic self-assurance just for the fans. His dark opaque luster, the color of his skin, is brown, the product of a white father and a brown mother, because God can be any color. When God came down as Darren Lemming to play baseball, some lessons had to be learned. 

Today we discover that God is gay but I’m getting ahead of myself.

“The whole mess started with Darren, I suppose.   After all, if he hadn’t done the thing, then the next thing wouldn’t have happened, or all the stuff after, …” – Kippy

Kippy (Will Bethencourt) is one of three narrators in this story about a baseball, because baseball needs announcers to fill in the gaps.  And he tells us that God, Darren Lemming, is a man who could do anything on the field and anything off the field.  And, for those kids who are struggling with their identities today, Darren will be giving a very special press briefing.  

“Any young man, creed, whatever, can go out there and become a ballplayer.  Or an interior decorator.” - Darren 

(And as night turns into morning the press has furiously tapped their keys to hammer out the story the fans eagerly want to consume.)

Darren Lemming’s teammates are understandably also caught off guard.

But Darren goes about his day undeterred knowing that he is still the smartest and greatest ballplayer on the planet, on the greatest team, and making a run for a third title in as many years.

Shortly thereafter, the temperament in the locker room suddenly shifts in a moment that changes the course of relationships forever. While Darren is having a conversation with Kippy, teammates Martinez (Gustaf Saige) and Rodriguez (Christian Harris) walk by and snub Darren, not responding to a simple “Hey.” A simple word, uttered by God, now suggests that Satan himself was in the room.  

Kippy thinks Darren’s declaration was just slightly out of the blue, and suggests the guys need time to adjust to his announcement.

“I thought it was the easiest way to..” – Darren

“You didn’t tell anybody. Dar.”  – Kippy

“No.” – Darren

“Nobody was told… I wasn’t told.” – Kippy

The only one Darren told was Skipper (PJ Waggaman), the manager, a man with personal skills who has seen it all (probably twice) and didn’t flinched when Darren came out.

A slightly miffed Kippy, Darren’s best friend on the team wasn’t told.  But that aside, Kippy is now happy that Darren is happy and has freed himself from those earthly hetero bonds.

But, just when you think things will be fine, Darren is approached by Jason Chenier (Justin Teitell), a newly acquired member of the team, a catcher, who wants to make nice.

“I’m in awe of you.” – Jason

“Sure.” – Darren

“And I just want to say:  the whole gay thing – doesn’t mean – I don’t – it doesn’t.  I’m in awe.” – Jason

And later coming out of the shower, Toddy (Peter Stoia) takes offense at Darren’s greeting.

“Hey.” Darren

“Okay, so now I gotta be worrying about this?” – Toddy

“About what is that, Toddy?” – Darren

“So now I gotta go around worrying that every time I’m naked or dressed or whatever you’re checking out my ass.” – Toddy

Darren assures Toddy that his sexuality is not Toddy’s problem and then calls him a dimwit.

But how and why did this come about, coming out, at this time?  Kippy believes it has to do with his best friend off the team, Davey Battle (Edwin Rush), a major league baseball player.

Darren is in town to play Davey’s Empire team.  And after Davey’s team gets horrendously whipped, the men go out to a local bar.  Davey thinks he’s a better player despite being on an inferior team. Davey lets it be know that he knows who he is, a loving father with three kids. He just wants to know now, today, Darren’s inclinations.   Where are his threes?

“I drink my one beer, and I cuss my two cuss words loudly, as to manifest my true nature.  I want my whole self known.  You should too, Darren.  You should, too.” – Davey

L - R Richard Sabine and Barry Brisco 

Shortly thereafter, Darren’s been thinking pretty hard about his career and he meets up with his newly acquired financial advisor Mason Marzac (Richard Sabine) who is the third narrator.  Mason brings us back to present day to discuss his financial situation and setting up a foundation for gay kids under ten years of age in a community in which neither belong.  Also, it seems that Darren has other motives for this move.

It only takes the slightest turn of events for the bottom to fall out of a team (Think Steve Bartman in Chicago.) and this team has been demoralized with Darren coming out.  They start losing bad, Takeshi Kawabata-san (Takumi Bansho) their ace pitcher starts breaking down completely in the six innings and the rest of the pitchers offer no help.  Kawabata-san who speaks no English is alone in his defeat.

But suddenly the Empires find an ace in the name of Shane Mungitt (Kyle Colton), a guy from Tennessee - and or slash - Arkansas who speaks less English that Kawabata-san, but is burning up the plate.  The Empires start winning again and things are fine until Mungitt makes a startling announcement, in front of the press, and on national TV.

Richard Greenberg, the writer, has written a play that is enjoyable from start to finish.   Baseball is not a solitary game with nine players on the field. Those nine bring their backstory to the field, and that backstory is filtered through the players, the coaches, and the audience.  And, for the few short hours, there is a devoted concentration on the game.  The game is simple but complicated, satisfying and aggravating, aggressive and passive.  And the impending calamity of a close game in the bottom of the ninth, or the race for the pennant, is heightened by someone’s cataclysmic disclosures of a personal nature.  And whether one likes it or not all of this becomes a part of baseball. And this makes for an exciting play.  

L - R 
Will Bethencourt, Christian Harris, Barry Brisco, Peter Stoia, Gustaf Saige, Justin Teitell, Takumi Bansho and PJ Waggaman

Will Bethencourt handles Kippy Sunderstrom in smart fashion. For Kippy it is all about the team and providing the backstory as one of the narrator as well as providing support for the other characters. (The Sunderstrom character will probably write a memoir after it is said and done.) But, the team is going for its third championship and there are unexpected conflicts tearing at the fabric of this team’s soul.  Kippy must be the one to sort this all out.   As the idealist he knows there is little room for conflict within the team.  And he must keep the conflict in the locker room before the players go out onto the field.  It is a tough job and a sizeable conflict plaguing this character.  And if there is anything I would like to see in Bethencourt’s performance is a reaction to that conflict which would only add to an already very fine performance.  

Barry Brisco is the perfect fit for Darren Lemming.  Brisco is charming, has a wonderful smile, and gives the character a strong core.  If God were a baseball player, he would be Darren Lemming.  And a suggestion for the actor is: what if he conducted himself as God throughout the play? We get a glimmer of that in Brisco’s performance and it might be there might be more to add to get to another layer. Darren knows where this is all going.  And only he knows from the steps he takes, in the announcement, conducting himself as a God among mortal men, persuading to have someone thrown off the team.  He doesn’t need much to do this because of his God given talent that backs him up. But then he discovers that he is not going to change someone’s mind and that must be the moment when things start to change for him, his downfall, or his discovery. Brisco as the character becomes emotional later in the play and I’m wondering if there are other choices that would make the audience cry, rather than the character. In the end, God’s world starts falling apart, but not too bad, after all, he is God. Nevertheless, this is a very fine performance by Brisco.

Richard Sabine plays Mason Marzac as a comic relief character.  Mason fills in the roll as one more narrator.  There is a tremendous amount of humor in Sabine’s performance but his actions lack a solid objective.  Where is he is taking the character?  In the end, the character must have the ballplayer.  This objective will give him all he needs to get there.   I didn’t see anything resembling vying for his affection but there is a lot of dialogue to suggest that he will do anything for this man.  Like learn the game, flirt with his gay neighbors, about the catch he has made, and even trying to get Lemmings to extend his career another 10 to 15 years, when the average career life of a major league baseball player is around 15 years. Ideally I would love to see Marzac fall desperately in love with Lemmings and I would like Sabine to add those actions that would compliment a fine performance.

Peter Stoia plays Toddy Koovitz with a lot of humor, a grand and not too bright sense of self, complimented with an unusual speech patter, which worked for this particular and peculiar character. Toddy has been on the team for a while.  He knows the ropes and is not afraid to confront the star player when he feels things need to be addressed.   He even has a beard bringing the character to modern day Boston Red Sox battle of the beards. Fear the beard. Stoia is very likeable in the role.

Kyle Colton is Shane Mungitt and has a very distinctive look with a face that absorbs light and onlookers alike.  As the character, Mungitt has a purpose but he dissimulates his true purpose.  All told he is a very mysterious character who knows how to throw a fastball, close, and win games. He keeps to himself knowing that when he speaks he will get himself into trouble. His backstory helps him when he is confronted by the other players but does not help him when he is in front of the cameras. What does he want?  More than anything he wants to pitch if only he could keep his mouth shut. Colton does a fine job with Mungitt but, like the character, he needs to close.

Edwin Rush plays Davey Battle and has a very good look.  But, there are slight problems figuring out what the character wants.  One believes the character thinks he is the superior player. No one else knows this because Battle is on an inferior team.  So what does he do?  He plants the seed for his counterpart’s destruction. As his best friend, this is a dastardly act.  Ultimately things don’t work as planned for Davy Battle.  A slight adjustment is needed for this character and his actions that convey a purpose.

PJ Waggama plays Skipper and was the third narrator of this play.  He is the man who takes care of the team while ironing out the “wrinkles” or paving the “bumps” in the road.  One believes it’s all about legacy with this coach, the opportunity to win three championships in a row and stopping at nothing to get there, even if it means telling “God” to hold on.   It’s a winning at all cost mentality.  Waggama plays the character safe and requires exploring other levels needed to coach this successful team.  

Takumi Bansho is Kawabata-san and does a fine job.  He is a baseball player that is demoralized when he loses a baseball game and comes to an understanding that baseball has a purpose and that in the end he is very fortunate.

Justin Tietell plays Jason Chenier nicely.  Tietell needs work strengthening his voice to take command of this character.  There is a lot more the character can do to gain favor of the star and this does not stop after his introduction but rather continues through the play.

Christian Harris shows a lot of promise as Rodriguez with his dark features and he played the waiter in a very dark bar scene, which I thought was very funny. A better command of the Spanish language and a more authentic accent would help his performance and possibly his career.  

Gustaf Saige played Martinez with an excellent grasp of the Spanish language.  A better grasp of the character and objective would help his performance.

Hayden Viet Lam, Oscar Pena, and Brian Perras are alternates but did not perform on this night.

Emanuel Millar, the director, does a fine job with this group of enthusiastic actors.  And the actors tell the story with certain panache. One gets the feeling this game and this play is one big allegory. And whether the director wants to make that choice is his decision. There were things missing on this night, moments that didn’t quite play out, pauses with no effect.   

The relationships between Davey and Darren needed guidance and a lot more work. Right now it hard to believe they were in love with each other or had any feelings at all toward one another.  And more than anything, this relationship must work in order for all the moments of the play to fall into place. Perhaps the pieces will fall together on another night.

But overall, it was a fantastic evening, and probably, by the time you read this, the cast will have settled down a bit when the lights come up and it’s time for another night game.

Will Bethencourt and Justin Orkin really did an excellent job as Producers of this project.

Kyle Colton did a fantastic job as Costume Designer and was responsible for the very nice Set Design in this small black box theatre.  

John Toom was responsible for the Light Design.  But, we really need to see the actors faces during the bar scene.

Shari Barrett is the Publicist.  

Brad Hodgens was responsible for the Set Build.

The Sound Specialist was Justin Orkin and things never sounded so perfect.

The Stage Manager was Vincent Amaya.

Run! And takes someone who is passionate about baseball.

The reservation link and the phone number for reservations no longer work.  I'm not sure what's going on.  Stay tuned.

P.S. Sad to say:  The show has been cancelled after 5 performances. 

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