Take Me Out
By Richard Greenberg

Director David Blue Set Designer Adrian Fehr Lighting Sean Tyson Sound Rod Kenny Stage Manager Becky Oben

Dates 11-15 October 2006 Venue Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island Reviewer JH Stape

For some, an interest in games and gaming, particularly baseball, is a greater mystery even than sexual orientation. Richard Greenberg's play takes both as givens, exploring man-to-man love in the enemy territory of heartland USA's obsession with this quintessential all-male ritual. But his play really is about the search for meaning, ever elusive, and the ways in which to find it -- whether through a game that is mainly a metaphor or the hurly burly of friendship.

David Blue's crisp direction and good sense of pacing bring these ideas out with clarity, though at times the several different acting styles the actors use tend to spatter the effect. But the playwright, too, is varying in impulse, the language ranging from a self-conscious word play that is overly articulate to rhetorically flatness and naturalism.

The play's heavy reliance on monologue or near-monologue metaphorically suggests that teamwork is constantly falling apart, that even self-communion is problematic, and that everyone -- at the most communal moment of sharing in any activity -- leads a life of lonely isolation in the end.

The play explores these ideas mainly through the most obvious outsider Darren Lemming, a black baseball star who has "come out." On the whole, this main role was effectively taken by Chris Currie (though a bit more sporty butchness in the first act would have more clearly helped define his character). His nemesis, the orphaned Shane, very well played by Ryan Cowie, more painfully reveals in his extreme inarticulacy the wound at the very centre of the male American psyche: unable to feel, unable almost to talk, Shane is Mr Straight unaware that he has emotional needs.

Kippy, the sympathizer and empathizer, another opposite to him, carries much of the weight of linking together the plot and the players. A bit overly conversational in tone at times, Robert L. Duncan has perhaps the most difficult role in terms of range, with Greenberg's other characters often representing one fairly clear idea. Both James Dai as the Japanese pitcher, Kawabata, unable to speak English and lost in a world he doesn't understand, making meaning out of form only, and Nelson Carter-Leis as the super-butch, dumb, and chisselled hunk good-looking Toddy communicate their characters's essences flawlessly.

Jeff Michael Deglow's Mason, Darren's flamboyantly gay accountant, the wall flower amidst the big egos and big money of big baseball, is a true creation, but there's more than a tendency to go way over the top, and a bit more team-playing rather than prima donna assoluta might have rendered his character's real sadness more feelingly.

The supporting roles were all handled capably, with Martinez and Rodriguez (Leon Hanson and Nelson Kyle), again speaking a language no one else comprehends, managing to be convincing though neither was Latino. James Wilson in the role of Darren's best buddy, Davey, outraged by any hint of homosexuality in their relationship (mateship is a big number throughout), plays with fine distinction, the one actor, along with Nelson Carter-Leis, who convincingly plays a straight man. Stephen Street takes on various roles, deftly distinguishing them.

On the surface this play about a gay man trying to reconcile his private and public selves, but there's rather a lot more than meets the eye here in the polyphonic play of relationships that keep changing, rather like configurations on the baseball field. If this play itself has contradictions that the author didn't work out, it's none the less very good to have a gay troupe ornamenting the city's theatre scene and bringing work like this, which more mainstream groups wouldn't dare touch (eight nude men taking a shower no less!), to an audience it speaks directly to. Too bad, however, the straight community seemed wholly absent, for there's food for thought in Greenberg's play for everyone, whichever way one "swings."

© 2006 J H Stape