The theater has long been a place of refuge and recreation for me. In middle school and high school, I was a part of the chorus in productions of “The Little Mermaid” and “The Devil Wears Prada.”
Since my first year of college, I started actively taking advantage of the performing arts scene in and around Rutgers. I’ve gone to see amazing Broadway shows like “The Lion King,” “Waitress” and “Be More Chill,” as well as Livingston Theatre Company productions like “She Loves Me” with my friends and family.
The above examples show a clear bias toward musicals, so when my sister booked us tickets to the Broadway revival of Richard Greenberg’s play “Take Me Out,” I was excited to expand my theatrical horizons.
Interestingly enough, this is the second production I've seen centered around the game of baseball, which I truthfully know nothing about outside of the theater. The first was George Street Playhouse’s emotionally impactful “The Last Days of Summer” at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center in 2019, which my friends taking the famous “Theatre Appreciation” course at Rutgers offered me a ticket to.
The “Take Me Out” revival is emotionally impactful, too, but in much more cerebral, complicated and intriguing ways.
The play touches on how sexuality, class and race play out in the hypermasculine space of a men’s locker room, as well as in the outside world enamored by the semantics and dramatics of Major League Baseball. The original production of “Take Me Out” in 2002 won three Tony awards and was originally housed at the Walter Kerr Theatre.
The revival is at the Hayes Theater on West 44th Street in Manhattan and is being put on by Second Stage Theater. The show opened on April 4 and has been declared a Critic’s Pick by Jesse Green of The New York Times. It has also received rave reviews from prominent publications like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
What I loved most about seeing this production was how accessible it was. Broadway tickets for popular shows like “Hamilton” are notoriously expensive and go upward of $100. Second Stage Theater’s 30 under 30 discount makes it possible for people under the age of 30 years old to see a stellar show at the affordable price of $30.
“Take Me Out” has an all-star cast, with Jesse Williams (of “Grey’s Anatomy” fame) starring as Darren Lemming, an idolized biracial center-fielder for the fictional New York team, the Empires, who publicly comes out as gay.
Throughout the play, all-star Darren deals with the aftermath of how the revelation of his homosexuality unravels the team’s dynamics and his colleague’s shift in attitude toward him. Darren's character, confident but complex in his personal and professional life, is loosely inspired by the story of baseball’s first openly gay player, Glenn Burke.
Patrick J. Adams, best known for his work on the television series “Suits” as protagonist Mike Ross, plays Kippy Sunderstorm in “Take Me Out.” Kippy is an intellectual and empathetic narrator and Darren's work best friend, who guides the audience through the colorful cast of characters on his highly flawed baseball team.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, beloved for his portrayal of Mitch on “Modern Family,” is Mason Marzac, a relatively shy gay man and Darren's newly appointed accountant whose interest in baseball is piqued after his coming out.
Ferguson’s comedic timing is impeccable. His enthused monologues involving numerology in the game and comparing the hopefulness derived from watching baseball to the exhaustion derived from living in America’s supposed democratic society are delightfully entertaining takeaways from the play.
Michael Oberholtzer delivers an incredible performance playing Shane Mungitt, a newly appointed relief pitcher is who talented but provocative due to his dark past, prejudiced outlooks and haphazard roots in rural America.
Another familiar face is Julian Cihi, who plays Tim Kono in “Only Murders in the Building.” In “Take Me Out,” Cihi plays Takeshi Kawabata, a Japanese immigrant unable to communicate with his teammates who speak English and Spanish.
The various languages each player of the Empires employs in their interactions make watching the (mis)communication characterizing “Take Me Out” all the more fascinating.
Homophobia and racism, and all the horrendous slurs that come with these socio-cultural phenomena, are commonplace in the men’s locker room. The Latino players, Rodriguez and Martinez, keep to themselves apart from occasional bursts of Spanish directed at their predominantly white teammates.
The moronic Toddy Koovitz struggles to navigate the multicultural locker room as a clueless white man. Kippy’s manner of speaking is sometimes overly esoteric and verbose, despite the fact that he is the team’s main interlocutor.
The play runs for a little more than 2 hours and offers the audience profound insight into the various privileges, marginalities, intimacies and idiocies that come about on the field, in the clubhouse and in the U.S. at large.
The set moves between interior and exterior spaces of passivity and activity — words are spoken loudly in yells and on TV and then soft in whispers behind closed doors or on phone calls.
The most action-packed scenes are when the lights of the make-believe stadium come on, pitches are fervently thrown and bats are passionately swung.
“Take Me Out” is not for the faint-hearted, as there are depictions of adult situations as well as racist and homophobic language that may be triggering for many viewers.
There’s also a considerable amount of full-frontal nudity in the play, facilitated by casual but engaging locker room chat and tense dialogue in the showers. To protect the actors’ privacy and create a distraction-free environment for the challenging situations they’re meant to perform, the theater is using Yondr, a pouch that locks away audiences’ phones for the entirety of the show.
Comedians like Dave Chapelle, John Mulaney and Chris Rock, as well as musical artists like Silk Sonic, have been using Yondr at shows to create meaningful viewing experiences that make audiences disconnect to connect.
Locking away my phone the moment I set foot in the theater allowed me to fully immerse myself in the production, listen intently to Greenberg’s words spoken through the brilliant company performing and even thoroughly and carefully read my Playbill as I waited for the show to start.
“Take Me Out” is a home run and running at the Hayes Theater until June 11.