Baseball’s most well-known connection to Broadway is, of course, 1955’s Damn Yankees, the Faustian tale of a pro-baseball wannabe who sells his soul for a shot at The Show. That show is silly, funny, dancey, and very stagey. It’s a big ‘ol Broadway musical.
Baseball’s now back on the Great White Way, but now it’s deadly (literally) serious, as Richard Greenberg’s 2002 play Take Me Out has been revived this fall, following a Tony-winning run in the spring.
It’s a sports play for people who might not love sports or for people who might not love plays.
All-Star and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Darren Lemming (played in the current production by Jesse Williams of Grey’s Anatomy fame) is a “five-tool player of such incredible grace he made you suspect there was a sixth tool.” His team, the Empires, is fresh off of two Championship titles and in the midst of a run to complete a three-peat.
Basically, he’s Derek Jeter in those late ’90s Evil Empire Yankees years. Though Jeter was never that good…
He’s untouchable. Think Babe or Bonds or Mantle or Mookie. Trout if he ever won anything past August. No one can tear him down.
Or at least, that’s what he thinks.
When he decides to come out as gay one random mid-summer afternoon, he confuses his popularity with invincibility and watches as his team, his advisors, his fans, and the entire baseball world responds to this thing that’s a big deal to everyone but him.
Still to this day, no Major League player has publicly come out, so the play takes it from there with its liberties.
The theme it tackles the most is, obviously, that of homophobia. When a John Rocker-esque rookie pitcher, Shane (a scene-stealing Michael Oberholtzer) comes up from the minors, pitches a lights-out series of saves…and then feels like he can let his true feelings about both gay people and people of color (the Lemming character is both, of course) come out in a postgame interview, Lemming must figure out what truly makes a teammate. Lemming is also monologued about being “a Black man who you could imagine had never suffered,” so these words hit him in multiple ways as the show manages to also tackle race, as we get perspectives from the team’s Hispanic and Japanese players as well.
All of these conversations take place in the most vulnerable of places, the Empires’ locker room and showers. Will they treat Darren differently when nudity is involved? Who is on his side on the field but a different person post-game? Who bares it all while baring it all?
A side note: Yes, there is your ticket price’s money’s worth of nudity in the show. Everyone bares it all. Your phone is locked up in a Yondr pouch before you enter the theatre, so what happens in the Schoenfeld stays in the Schoenfeld.
There’s no shortage of drama for fans of drama.
But there’s also no shortage of baseball for those taken to the theatre by theatregoers, praying desperately that there will be enough baseball to keep them interested.
Sure, it’s a little unlikely that Lemming could actually hit .400. Or that players would often jump from AA to the majors. Or that some of these guys even look like they could play baseball.
There’s a supporting character, Lemming’s financial advisor Mason (played by Modern Family alum Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who won a Tony for the show’s original run this spring – an well-deserved accolade) that comes to love the sport through his relationship with Darren.
He begins to love the things about baseball that you and I love.
He loves home run trots: “What I like about it is it’s so unnecessary. The ball’s gone, no one’s going to bring it back. And can anyone doubt that a man capable of launching a ball four hundred feet is somehow going to fail to touch a base when he’s running uninterfered with? For all intents and purposes, the game at that moment, is not being played. If duration of game is an issue — and I’m given to believe that duration of game is an issue — the sensible thing would be to say, yes, that’s gone, add a point to the score, and send the next batter to the plate.”
He loves the numbers: “It’s the remarkable symmetry of everything. All those threes and multiples of three, calling attention to — virtually making a fetish of — the game’s noble equality. Equality, that is, of opportunity. Everyone is given exactly the same chance.”
He loves the winning and the losing: “Baseball is better than democracy — or at least than democracy as it’s practiced in this country — because, unlike democracy, baseball acknowledges loss. While conservatives tell you, “Leave things alone and no one will lose,” and liberals tell you, “Interfere a lot and no one will lose,” baseball says, “Someone will lose.” Not only says it — insists upon it! So that baseball achieves the tragic vision democracy evades. Evades and embodies. Democracy is lovely, but baseball’s more mature. “
Another side note: Playwright Greenberg may have some issues preaching to the choir when it comes to fans of theatre or fans of baseball, but you can see here that his prose is never a problem.
You’ll get it all in Take Me Out (get the title’s quadruple entendre now?), from humor to drama to the best of baseball to the best of Broadway, to a follow-up on that promise of literally being dead serious. It runs at the Gerald Schoenfeld through February 5th. It’s worth the price of admission, for some it’ll be worth much more.