July 2, 2004
Game of words
The Unicorn Theatre stands to fare well with their current production of Richard Greenberg's play Take Me Out. Written with lyricism and produced with the Unicorn's reliable standard of excellence, the play unearths provocative issues and conjures demons inherent in some of the more disturbing facets of contemporary life. The disquieting problems dealt with in the play, however, will not serve as the major selling factor for the run of the show. Full frontal male nudity is the popular attraction of Take Me Out.
Greenberg's play explores levels of intolerance in the world of professional
American baseball. A star player, Darren Lemming (Edouard Fontaine),
of a famous, formidable team, the Empires, has recently announced
his gay sexual orientation to the media, the team and his associates.
Another player, Kippy Sunderstrom (Will Fowler), erudite and verbose,
serves as a central narrator, regularly turning to the audience and
delivering wordy monologues that explain the team's goings-on.
The title of the play takes on a triple entendre: take me out to the ball game, take me out of the closet and to take someone out. The conflicts lead to a murder.
On the surface Take Me Out delves into prejudice and frightening interpersonal conflict. A recurrent theme of literacy, however, so impinges upon the play's development that Greenberg could arguably have created a play about the meaning of words and the importance of the understanding of language.
After a poetic opening speech by Kippy, he meets Darren in the locker room. Both communicate with verbal skill. Soon enters Jason Chenier (Jeff Metzger) who, true to the stereotype of the professional athlete, has trouble completing a declarative sentence. He even says, "A friend of mine read a book once," to which Darren and Kippy ironically reply, "No!"
Kippy introduces two of the team's pitchers: Takeshi Kawabata (Vi Tran), from Japan and Shane Mungitt, who himself cannot name the actual place of his origin, but makes clear that it's the American South. Both of these men, Kippy says, cannot speak English, but for different reasons.
A delightful scene in Act II has Takeshi Kawabata speaking to teammates in Japanese, Martinez (Keenan Ramos) and Rodriguez (Adam D. Wasserman) in Spanish with Kippy acting as a fumbling translator, another manifestation of the importance in the play of language.
The Empires' coach, Skipper (Scott Cordes), firmly announces to Darren, "I loved you as a son." Darren replies, "What tense was that?" In a climactic scene between Darren and his friend Davey Battle (Darryl Stamp), Davey uses the word "fleering." Darren protests his friend's antiquated vocabulary.
Greenberg's emphasis on literacy gives the play enormous dimension. Even Shane's scandalously inappropriate tirade to the media causes conflict because of Shane's illiterate understanding of the politically correct. Kippy explains to him, "They don't call themselves 'colored people,' they call themselves 'people of color.'"
"What's the difference?" Shane asks.
Director Cynthia Levin orchestrated an effective production, coached excitingly unpredictable performances out of the all-male cast and managed to keep the action moving, though Act II gets long. Fontaine as Darren creates a threatening and smoldering gay baseball player without resorting to stereotype and maintaining an endearing humor. Tran as Takeshi, silently imposing, makes his small stature mysterious and threatening. Fowler behaves so refined and articulate as Kippy, one wonders if his character plans to join his teammate on the other side of the closet door.
Set Designer Gary Mosby created a symmetrical locker room with two sets of lockers that actually move apart to reveal a workable shower room (and the actors make full use of the shower). Suspended above the playing space is the most gripping design component onstage: a large video screen used primarily to define the setting. The sign outside of the locker room, the logo of the drinking establishment and other delineation appear. Levin most effectively used the screen for a television interview with several of the players. On the screen, we see and hear the actual interview. Onstage, we see the actors physically, silently echoing the video above them, lit in a haunting silhouette by Lighting Designer Jeffrey Cady.
This disturbing, layered, literary and competently mounted play, Take Me Out, runs until July 25 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main St. Show times are Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee. Call 816-531-7529 x10 or visit www.unicorntheatre.org. Take Me Out contains strong language and nudity.
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.
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