Los Angeles Theater Review: TAKE ME OUT (Plus One Productions at the Flight Theatre)

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by Tom Chaits on January 12, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

A SWING AND A MISS

Theater, like baseball, is a team sport. To reign triumphant and put a tick in the “W” box, all the players must be at the top of their game. When everyone hits a home run its magic, but even if a few players are having an off day, check the “L” box. Such is the case with Plus One Productions’ mounting of Take Me Out, currently rounding the bases at the Flight Theatre. Although many of the show’s elements score big, there are enough that strike out, leaving the viewer wanting more and turning Take Me Out into Count Me Out.

"Can you believe what that guy just did on the field?" (from left):Jeff Basham, Barry Brisco, Richard SabineFirst produced in 2002, Richard Greenberg’s tale of a major league baseball player who comes out of the closet at the height of his career was a grand slam, winning the 2003 Tony for Best Play. The words are clearly on the page, so it’s left in the hands of the director to assemble and guide a cast and crew capable of successfully bringing the words to life.  When the original director of this outing was taken ill, a relief pitcher was called up from the bull pen. The credited director is now Emanuel Millar whose bio states “spent the last three decades as a hair stylist and designer in the film industry…” Need I say more? As a rookie director he clearly needs a few more “at bats” before he has the chops to knock it out of the park. While it’s impossible to tell which of the directors is responsible for the pieces of the theatrical puzzle that work, the end result is unfocused, uneven and unsatisfying. At the end of the day, the responsibility for that must clearly rest in the lap of Mr. Millar.

The coach listens to Kippy's explanation of why the game was lost. (clockwise from left): PJ Waggaman, Kyle Colton, Gustaf Saige, Takumi Bansho, Will BethencourtIt really is a shame that so much of the production misfires because there are some wonderful performances. Barry Brisco as the gay slugger Darren Lemming and Will Bethencourt (also credited as co-producer) as his teammate and confidant Kippy Sunderstrom are excellent. They offer up totally believable and human depictions of their characters. Their interactions are so real you can’t help but be drawn into their world.  Luckily for the audience the two have many scenes together without the distraction of less accomplished cast members. Once another actor enters the stage the spell is broken.

After his big announcement, Darren (Barry Brisco)  asks to be left alone to just play baseball.While Kyle Colton, as the bigoted and homophobic “closer” Shane Mungitt, also turns in a bravura performance, less thrilling but still watchable is Richard Sabine as Darren’s gay business manager Mason Marzac. The problem is that his performance is extremely one-note and lacks any real depth. This role is the heart and soul of the piece and is so integral to the overall mood and emotionality of the show that the actor portraying Marzac is given the second to last curtain call. Mr. Sabine has not earned this honor.

After that, the remaining cast members go from bad to worse. Edwin Rush as Darren’s long-time friend and rival player Davey Battle is overblown and just plain unwatchable; Millar should have reeled him in. Thankfully the rest of the cast has very little to do. For the most part, they appear quite uncomfortable and seem to wander aimlessly. In addition, they do the most ridiculous stage whispers and background business I’ve ever seen. It’s quite a distraction.

Mason listens to Darren's baseball dreams. (from left): Richard Sabine, Barry BriscoIt is always a challenge designing a full scale production in a tiny black box theater. Take Me Out presents some unique scenic requirements including a shower room. In every production I have seen the showers are functional and the water flows freely. Even Celebration Theatre’s in-the-round take figured out a way to make it rain in their cramped quarters. Not so here. Designed by Mr. Colton (there’s a lot of double-duty in this production), the shaky tile setting is a totally dry affair leaving the actors to mime soaping up and showering. The walls literally sway, and it looks as ridiculous as it sounds. The locker room section of the set is fine but runs into trouble when it doubles as other settings. This could have been helped by more creative lighting, but John Toom’s design is simply too straight forward. It is important to note that there were many technical glitches during the performance I saw, so it is possible there were some more subtle lighting effects that were not working.

The cast of TAKE ME OUT, opening at the Flight Theatre in Hollywood 1/4/14. (seated from left): Jeff Basham, PJ Waggamanm, Will Bethencourt (standing from left): Gustaf Saige, Peter Stoia, Kyle Colton, Hayden Lam, Justin Teitell, Takumi BanshoAnyone who is familiar with the show is aware there is full frontal nudity in both the locker room and shower scenes. If you are at all offended by the presence of naked male genitalia parading around the stage you might want to sit this one out. Several announcements are made before the show, signs are posted, and we are all reminded after intermission that all cell phones must be off and there are to be absolutely no pictures taken of all those wieners waving in the wind. Can we all grow up and get over ourselves? They’re just penises.

Kippy and Darren prove baseball is a game of camaraderie, not differences, and only team work will make the dream work.  (from left) Will Bethencourt, Barry BriscoProfessional sports are still perceived to be a bastion of macho heterosexual testosterone-fueled masculinity. There are no doubt gay players in every arena who remain deep in the closet, at least until they retire and feel safe enough to come out. Take Me Out examines the social and emotional ramifications both personal and public that result after an active player chooses to reveal he’s “batting for the other team.”  It’s an important issue that deserves much more than this production allows. If this were a baseball game, it’s the bottom of the 9th, the bases are loaded and there are 2 outs. The pinch hitter is at home plate and has a full 3/2 count. The next pitch will determine everything. Everyone in the stadium is rooting for the home team to pull off a surprise win. The ball is thrown and it’s strike three. Close but no cigar. The game is over and the fans are deflated. Everyone goes home imagining what could have been.

photos by Shari Barrett

Take Me Out
Plus One Productions Los Angeles
Flight Theatre in the Complex, Hollywood
scheduled to end on February 2, 2014
for tickets, call (424) 333-2117 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/532655
for more info, visit www.plusoneproductionsla.com

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