Los Angeles Theater Review: TAKE ME OUT (Sky Lounge in North Hollywood)

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by Barnaby Hughes on June 9, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

BLACK BOX BASEBALL

Rise Above Theatre Movement has proved once again that it is not afraid of performing difficult material. In the young theatre company’s first show, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, many of the actors were challenged by the play’s unconventional religious content and its lead actor bared his body on stage. In Take Me Out, not just one, but nearly every single member of the all-male cast got naked for the show. Nudity, however, is probably not even the most shocking aspect of the play, which also includes racism and homophobia. But the play is also a celebration of baseball, a sport one of the characters describes as “unrelentingly meaningful.” In homage to the sport’s many trinities, playwright Richard Greenberg has constructed his play in three parts broken up by two intermissions.

The title, Take Me Out, is a pun that refers to both the popular baseball game song and to its main character, Darren Lemming (Sean Cameron-Young), the Empires’ star player who comes out of the proverbial closet. When Greenberg wrote the play in 2002, no major league baseball player had yet openly announced his homosexual orientation. Take Me Out deals with the aftermath of Lemming’s disclosure, especially with how his teammates react. Many are either uncomfortable being around Lemming in the locker room and showers, or they taunt Lemming by flaunting their nakedness, especially as scenes are primarily constructed around locker room encounters and exchanges. Things come to a head, however, when Shane Mungitt (Jeremy Parise) is hired to join the team. In a very public interview, he expresses his disapproval of both blacks and gays, which leads to an extremely uncomfortable (to watch) shower scene between Lemming and Mungitt that has explosive consequences.

Barnaby Hughes' Los Angeles review of Take Me OutDirector Kenne Guillory takes a rather realistic and thoroughly creative approach to staging Take Me Out. Despite working within the confines of a narrow, black box-type theatre, he aims for a more in-the-round approach where the audience sits in three sections. Next to some seating on the stage is a raised platform fitted out with actual steaming showers on which the naked players constantly move to and fro. The open space in the middle between facing rows serves variously as a bar, locker room and baseball diamond. Those who get a seat in the sideways-facing rows get rather an eyeful and are often joined in an adjacent seat by Lemming’s business manager Mason Marzac (Patrick Hilt), and Lemming’s teammate Kippy Sunderstrom (Dex Matthews).

Greenberg’s play comes across as rather long-winded and slow-paced due to the many monologues of Marzac and Sunderstrom. Hilt, who declaims Marzac’s paeans to baseball in a quasi-Shakespearean mode, seems somewhat out of place in this cast, although his character is far more memorable than fellow speechmaker Sunderstrom. It never becomes quite apparent why the latter knows Lemming so well and cares about him so much, but he does supply the audience with plenty of helpful background information. Matthews, however, plays Sunderstrom as if his character is unimportant and shouldn’t stand out despite being one of Take Me Out‘s leading roles. Cameron-Young similarly smolders rather than shines as Lemming. He comes across as cocksure and cool, more vain than valiant.

Barnaby Hughes' Los Angeles review of Take Me OutAlthough Guillory has assembled an uneven cast, it is not without merit. Parise gives a courageous performance as racist homophobe Shane Mungitt; at first it seemed that Parise, too, would smolder, but in a climactic scene near the show’s end he really catches fire. Adrian Scott, Jr. gives noteworthy expression to the minor yet key role of Lemming’s ball-playing friend Davey Battle, who plays for the opposing team (no pun intended). Rise Above Theatre Movement’s production of Take Me Out features a few promising actors, some novel staging and a rather verbose script. Either because the material itself is now somewhat dated or the cast is too green to pull it off, Take Me Out ultimately lacks the impact that its playwright surely intended.

photos by Daniel G. Lam

Take Me Out
Rise Above Theatre Movement (Sky Lounge) in North Hollywood (Los Angeles Theater)
scheduled to end on June 10
for tickets, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/236234

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