Take Me Out – The Underbelly of All-American Baseball

“Baseball boasts the most enviable corporate image in the world.” Roger Agnell 1964

Baseball is 142 years old. Though it continues to be fueled by heroes and hometown pride, for more than a third of that time, African Americans have been excluded, foreigners maligned, homosexuals in hiding. Richard Greenberg’s 2002 play is a look at the sacrosanct, apple pie, machismo version of the all American sport; friendship, homophobia, and racism. At root serious, it’s nonetheless peppered with humor deployed to tenderize or disarm tension.

Front cover of Jackie Robinson comic book (issue #5). Public Domain

In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first Black man to play major league baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers prematurely declared an end to segregation that had created a Negro League. Robinson was a dignified advocate of nonviolence who met racial abuse with control. Three months later, Larry Dolby broke a barrier in the American League only to discover no one would shake his hand. “Hammerin’” Hank Aaron endured hate mail for 23 seasons.

Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente (Pittsburgh Pirates 1955-72), who was both foreign and dark skinned, received sarcastic press and lost MVP to a White player with both fewer RBIs (a batted run that helps more than one run to score) and home runs. Ichiro Suzuki’s 2001 rookie season with the Mariners, he was pelted with debris from the stands, an avowed reaction to Japan’s participation in WWII.

Patrick J. Adams (Kippy); Jesse Williams (Darren)

LA Outfielder Glenn Duke was the first major league player to come out as gay, but instructed by management not to go public held off doing so until after leaving the sport. His autobiography suggests homophobia as one of the main reasons for his exit. Billy Bean (Dodgers 1987-95) is the only other player to acknowledge homosexuality- again, post career.

1999‘s successful closer John Rocker (Atlanta Braves) openly denigrated Blacks, gays and foreigners. In 2002, All-Star catcher Mike Piazza publicly professed heterosexuality after a gossip columnist implied one of the Mets’ top players was gay. In 2004, the Brave’s pitcher John Smoltz criticized same sex marriage with “What’s next, marrying an animal?” And in 2017, Braves’ pitching coach Roger McDowell responded to heckling by threatening to shove a bat up the men’s backsides. “That’s how you like it here, right?” he yelled. A drop in the bucket.

Jesse Williams (Darren); Brandon J. Dirden (Davey Battle)

Reflecting some of the characters and history above, the playwright’s Empire team consists of: Quiet Japanese Takeshi Kavabata (an excellent Julian Chi); Spanish teammates Rodriguez (Michael Castillejos) and Martinez (Hiram Delgado), who feasibly keep to themselves, but lose credibility by ostensibly being able to speak no English; Jason Chenier (Tyler Lansing Weaks), a closeted gay man.

Ignorant, obtuse Toddy Koovitz (tonight the viscerally frustrating Stephen Wattrus) and mentally damaged, hayseed Shane Mungitt (Michael Oberholtzer, terrific, both brooding and exploding) are both way below any acceptable level of intelligence in terms of hiring. Manager Skipper (Ken Marks) is a company man. Playwright Richard Greenberg stretches some points beyond reckoning.

Teammate Kippy Sunderstrom (Patrick J. Adams offering very real, low key ballast), a White, liberal, family man, acts as narrator. Kippy seems the only one sure enough of himself to befriend the Empires’ high profile, charismatic star, Darren Lemming – modeled on Derek Jeter? (a compelling Jesse Williams).

Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mason); Jesse Williams (Darren)

Additional characters include Darren’s best friend, the genial, religious Davey Battle (reliably solid Brandon J. Birden) who plays for another team, and Darren’s business manager, the adorable, if too cliché gay man, Mason Marzac who will take to baseball with born again religious fervor. (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, certainly a Tony nominee for detailed portrayal.)

It’s 2002. One evening over drinks, Davey observes that his friend would be happier with love and self-actualization. He suggests Darren act as his true self. When next approached by reporters, Darren unguardedly comments, “Any young man should be able to go out there and become a ball player – or an interior decorator.” Darren is gay. He’s already told Skipper whose response, “This changes nothing” coincides with the player’s belief that since there’s no scandal, there’ll be no consequences. Atmosphere in the locker room has, however, changed.

Jesse Williams (Darren)

Initial indication of this is Jason’s awkwardly approaching Darren for a date. Think Ichabod Crane. Not happening. Then, making assumptions as to aggressive behavior, Toddy describes being self consciously naked before someone who might be watching his ass. How much of the audience also reconsiders nudity and/or masculinity as we watch a considerable amount of it on stage? (Yes, these are beautiful bodies, but they’re also fine actors.) A television commercial the MVP made is exiled to the 2 a.m. slot. The team no longer regards him as a redeeming god and returns to its losing streak.

Gradually Darren realizes what’s going on. Finding it more distasteful than intimidating, he wonders whether he’s rich enough to quit and goes to visit Mason, a new man in his business manager’s office. Also gay, the finance expert can hardly contain himself for star power/attraction. He’s sweet – Darren invites him to the park – but makes it clear the player can’t quit yet.

Michael Oberholtzer (Shane) and the company

Closer (a relief pitcher who excels at getting four outs in a close game) Sean Mungitt is brought in. He’s sullen, off-putting and monosyllabic. The Empires score big. In an effort to discover with whom they’re playing, Kippy asks the pitcher about his life…which turns out to have been horrifying. Eventually press corners the Arkansas newbe. “I don’t mind the Colored People, Gooks or Spics, but to take a shower with a gay man…?!” he spits. Shane is suspended. The team loses. Darren starts to get cloying, unwanted support. The closer is reinstated fomenting fury, precipitating tragedy. Greenberg’s onstage story ends gently.

To date, in “real” life, only a few minor league players have come out, nor has racism or prejudice against foreigners disappeared.

Director Scott Ellis does a masterful job of keeping humor and gravity separate and character specific. Actors move like athletes. The stage is adroitly and economically employed. There’s no gratuitous physical contact.

David Rockwell’s minimal set in conjunction with lighting design by Kenneth Posner more than does an evocative job without distracting. Sound Designer Bray Poor creates such lifelike crowd noise, the first time we hear it everyone swivels to see who among us is cheering. An echoing anthem and balls connecting with bats are vivid.

This is a taut piece which, despite humor, offers relevance and much on which to chew. Let the few implausible things pass.

Forewarned- phones are confiscated and locked into pouches each audience member carries. This is to prevent nude photos from going viral. The pouches are unlocked as we exit.

Photos by Joan Marcus

Opening: Jesse Williams, foreground center, with from left: Tyler Lansing Weaks, Carl Lundstedt, Hiram Delgado, Patrick J. Adams and Eduardo Ramos

Second Stage at The Hayes Theater presents
Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Scott Ellis

The Helen Hayes Theater  
240 West 44th Street

About Alix Cohen (1332 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.