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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Take Me Out

By Laura Hitchcock

Enlightened is when all standards go to hell. I'm not enlightened and I'm proud of it!
---Toddy Koovitz
"" We reviewed it in London, we reviewed it in New York. And it's absolutely essential to review Richard Greenberg's brilliant funny 2003 Tony-winning Pulitzer Prize-nominated play in its new incarnation at The Geffen Playhouse's temporary venue, The Brentwood Theatre.

No living playwright is as versatile as Greenberg. He's written some bombs but when he's on, he's on. In Three Days of Rain he used three actors to play six characters in two different eras to illustrate, among other points, the effect of the past. In The Dazzle he used his favorite three-character cast and the oft-told historical tale of the reclusive Collier brothers to probe with crystal scalpel the mysteries of personality. In Take Me Out he's hit a home run.

When I interviewed Denis O'Hare, Tony-winner for the original Mason Marzac, last year, the first adjective that occurred to me to describe this play, which uses baseball as a metaphor for America, was patriotic. "In its purest sense," Denis agreed " but not the current awful way it's being misused. Take Me Out is true patriotism, meaning philosophical rather than jingoistic." Take Me Out has kept up with the times. This year it sounds so political that it could have been written last month -- witness the quote at the top of this page. Equally apt is Mason Marzac's line, "Democracy is wonderful but baseball is more mature."

When Darren Lemming (Terrell Tilford), the drop-dead gorgeous African-American baseball superstar, announces at a press conference that he's gay with the casual ease of an untouchable Golden Boy who's always been admired and adored, he opens a Pandora's box he didn't know was there. It shouldn't surprise him that his teammates in the locker room feel uncomfortable showering with him now. Nor should he be surprised that his evangelical best friend Davey Battle (Morocco Omari), also African-American, tells him he misunderstood Battle's mandate to tell the truth, righteously denying he knew, much less meant, That Awful Truth.

At first the unbelieving Darren seems merely petulant and outraged but as the plot thickens, he's stunned by the racial and sexual slurs pronounced with equal assurance by the uneducated Southerner, Shane Mungitt (Jeremy Sisto), who can't do anything but throw a baseball. The violent reactions of the two men escalate to a murderous frenzy, as does the dramatic suspense. However, this is no simple thriller and neither is it a flawless play. The gag about the gay guys in the hall doesn't work the second time around, especially in the serious context of the scene, but who can quibble with a play that contrasts "people of color" with "people of pallor" in such unforgettable ways and phrases?

Greenberg finds all kinds of ways to deepen and broaden his characters. There's the wonderful scene in which Kippy (Jeffrey Nordling) translates for rookie Jason (Bryce Johnson) the Japanese and Hispanic dialogue of the other players. He doesn't speak their languages, Kippy assures the bemused Jason, but he knows what they're saying. It's not long before we think we do, too.

Best of all is the character of Mason Marzac (Jeffrey Hutchinson), the mousy middle-aged accountant who falls passionately in love with baseball, just as Greenberg did. Both the endearingly nerdy Mason and the grounded Kippy, who makes the fatal mistake of believing he knows what Shane really thinks and ghostwrites a letter of apology for him, speak for the playwright and for us -- Mason with passion and Kippy as a player who's also an observer. We badly need Mason's outside eyes.

Although Hutchinson doesn't use the delicious physical ecstasy with which Denis O'Hare wriggled like a kid creaming his jeans over baseball, he creates a solid Wally Cox-ish character who discovers the glee of an outsider who's suddenly in, even as Darren finds out what it feels like to feel definitively out.

Terrell Tilford finds every nuance in Darren's arc, beginning with courtesy and mischief and ending as a grown-up, and it's mesmerizing to watch the character change and expand. Nobody does nasty better than Jeremy Sisto, who gives brotherhood a bad name as creepy Billy on HBO's Six Feet Under. Dapper Billy is obliterated by the shaggy hair and beard Sisto's grown to express Shane's primitive quality. He's like Swamp Thing and you believe the story that he's the kind of guy who would vent his rage on children's milk bottles.

Director Randall Arney makes hear Kippy's voice more strongly and Jeffrey Nordling holds the stage with quiet confidence and sly humor. Arney has also restaged the shower scene, putting the shower heads in a circle mid-stage rather than marching from right to left like the Rockettes.

A last word about the Brentwood Theatre, built in 1942 as an entertainment center for veterans. It works and probably has the best bathroom and parking facilities in town. When the Geffen moves back to Westwood, let's hear it for the little theatre that put the big B back in Brentwood.

Playwright: Richard Greenberg
Director: Randall Arney Cast: Jeffrey Nordling (Kippy Sunderstrom), Terrell Tilford (Darren Lemming), Jeremy Sisto (Shane Mungitt), Carmen Argenziano (Skipper/Wm. R. Danziger), Carlos Albert (Martinez/TV Announcer/Guard), Byron Quiros (Rodriguez), Bryce Johnson (Jason Chenier), Ian Barford (Toddy Koovitz), Morocco Omari (Davey Battle), Jeffrey Hutchinson (Mason Marzac), Ryun Yu (Takeshi Kawabata)br> Set Design: Eric Larson
Lighting Design: Daniel Ionazzi
Costume Design: Christina Haatainen Jones Original Music & Sound: Karl Fredrik Lundeberg
Running Time: Two and a half hours with one intermission
Running Dates: September 14-October 24, 2004
Where: The Geffen Playhouse at The Brentwood Theatre, Veterans Administration grounds, 11301 Wilshire Blvd, Bldg 211, Brentwood. Phone: (310) 208-5454.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on September 22.
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