For Kalamazoo Gazette, 10-03-10
Playing ball in Eden
Sports as metaphor for today’s issues
When Jay Berkow talks about Western Michigan University’s upcoming University Theatre production of “Take Me Out,” the play’s director speaks in Biblical terms.
For example, the lead character, Darren Lemming, a power slugger hitting .400 for the New York Empires, is a superstar in baseball — he’s led his team to two consecutive World Series. Quoting playwright Richard Greenberg’s dialog, Berkow notes he’s referred to as “godly.”
Moreover, the team’s locker room, Berkow says, “is a masculine world and has a certain childishness. It is Eden-like.”
All of which sets up the drama’s story for the metaphorical Fall to come.
“Take Me Out” imagines what could happen if a star ball player came out of the closet while still at the top of his game and popularity, and how that could affect his relationship with his fellow players, coach and fans and his career. Along the way, it examines racism, masculinity, class structure and homophobia in sports and society.
“It’s a significant American play, Greenberg’s most important play to date,” contends Berkow, assistant professor of theater. It won Tony, Drama Desk and New York Drama Critics Circle awards in 2003 and was nominated for a Pulitzer.
“It’s the most exciting play to come out of Broadway in a decade.”
But it is not just about Lemming’s decision to step out of the closet, Berkow adds, “as about him having lived his whole life denying who he is. (As a superstar), he’s isolated in an ivory tower. He has no real human connections.”
Ben Maters will play Lemming. The all-male cast also will feature Sean Buckley, Matt Felkey, Michael Lopetrone, Cornelius Davidson, Joe Hoard, Cory O’Brien-Pniewski, Max Rasmussen, Christopher Grazul, Bello Pizzimenti and Joe Russell.
Rehearsals for the university production have been closed as the ball players spout some locker-room language — “They don’t talk like Boy Scouts,” Berkow admits — and the play calls for some locker-room full-frontal nudity. (WMU’s web site states audience members must be 18.)
“The use of nudity is important to the play,” Berkow says, but “it’s not about nudity.
“The characters are complicated. Every character is fleshed out … and has a broad emotional range.”
One set in the D. Terry Williams Theatre stands in for players’ apartments, the Empires locker room and the ball park — most of the set is carpeted with grass.
“There are scenes where they actually play ball,” Berkow laughs.
Some rehearsal time has been devoted to calisthenics and playing ball to build cast camaraderie.
The title itself isn’t only a play on words on baseball’s theme song and on Lemming’s “coming out,” Berkow says. The production will “take you out of yourself. It can change you,” he predicts.
“It’s a metaphor about the great American pastime. It’ll make you feel. And that’s what theater is about.”
“Take Me Out,” a University Theatre production, will run Oct. 7-17 at the D. Terry Williams Theatre in the Gilmore Theatre Complex, Western Michigan University, www.wmutheatre.com, 269-387-6222. Full City Café will sponsor an opening-night reception.
Free Stars and Moon Cabarets will be performed by music-theater performance graduating seniors in the lobby following Friday and Saturday shows.
Greenberg a prolific playwright
Richard Greenberg has written some 25 plays, starting with “The Bloodletters” in 1984, and has won numerous kudos for his work, including a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, a PEN/Laura Pels Award and an Oppenheimer Award.
“Take Me Out” was a 2003 Pulitzer Prize finalist.
His plays include:
• “The American Plan,” 1990
• “Night and Her Stars,” 1997
• “Three Days of Rain,” 1998
• “The Dazzle,” 2000
• “Our Mother’s Brief Affair,” 2009
His 2001 adaptation of Strindberg’s “Dance of Death” for Broadway starred Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren and David Strahairn.