WARNING: This play contains scenes of full frontal male nudity and frequent vulgar language
Baseball is hardly just a game or favorite national past time in "Take Me Out" Richard Greenberg's comic, touching, disturbing, tragic, eloquently-written and astutely observed masterpiece currently making its Cleveland premiere.
In the play, which the Dobama Theatre is giving a near flawless production through Sept. 9, baseball is a microcosm of and metaphor for a Democratic society.
On the surface, "Take Me Out," sounds rather simple: It deals with the fictional New York Empires' star player, Darren Lemming, played by husky actor Michael May, who effectively conveys pride and self-assuredness and later, emotional pain.
Lemming is so confident in his abilities and standing in baseball, he feels comfortable announcing to the media he's gay. Lemming's tragic flaw his unwavering sense of invincibility leads to an unfortunate circumstance at the end of the play.
Greenberg's multi-award wining work deals not only with the consequences of coming out, but celebrity, community, manliness, racism, ego, democracy, friendship, family and the love of the game.
With all that in mind, it is easy to dismiss "Take Me Out" as an unfocused play lacking an identity. But, as complex as it may seem, the glue that ties it all together into a seamless whole is baseball.
That is particularly evident in an address to the audience given by Mason Marzac, Lemming's nerdy, repressed accountant. (Caleb J. Sekeres, a short actor with glasses, turns Mason into a non-stop ball of excitement.)
Baseball, Marzac claims, is a "perfect metaphor for hope in a democratic society."
The game is marked by equality, in that each ball player is given the same exact chance; there is no clock as in basketball, football or hockey.
"And with each turn at the plate, there's the possibility of turning the situation to your favor; down to the very last try," Marzac states.
There are even "justices" (read umpires) to ensure fairness, and appeals allowed if players or managers disagree with a call. Even if a "justice" has made an error, he will not reverse it, but "even in the fairest of paradigms, unfairness will creep in," Marzac notes.
What does Marzac's poetic tribute to baseball have to do with Lemming's admission? Well, baseball indeed offers every player equal opportunity, not only within the rules of the game, but regardless of race, sexual orientation, etc. Lemming is a half-black, half-white gay who is a hugely successful and rich baseball player.
Still, unfairness "creeps in" when some of Lemming's teammates begin to shun him after learning he's gay.
The play's title has multiple meanings: It refers not only to Lemming coming out of the closet, but to Marzac's admission of his own homosexuality as well. "Take Me Out" could also refer to Marzac's discovery of baseball, in that he comes out of his shell to join the legions of fans in their love of the game.
Mungitt (a spitting, stammering, volatile Fred Maurer) is no doubt a character who's hateful and easy to hate; at one point, he refers to Lemming as "two-fifthsa person (who) should'n even be walkin' upright."
Such language is downright disgusting and sad, but "Take Me Out" has its share of humor. Perhaps no line is funnier than "That's not nice!," a statement Mungitt utters more than once.
Specifically, the character is referring to the way his players treat him. It is funny in a shocking sort of way, making Mungitt seem like the ultimate hypocrite. Another shocking but hilarious line comes when two of Mungitt's teammates visit him in jail, after he is accused of a crime.