It’s Friday, so it’s time once again to flip that script.
Regardless of whether people like it or not, I should be reading more plays in general. This week, I was thinking of reading a Noel Coward play, because the book I’m currently reading (Two for Sorrow, by Nicola Upson) mentions him in several places, but then I realized I don’t have any Coward plays in my collection. So I just picked a random play that I hadn’t yet read off the shelf, and now I’m sharing it with you: Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg.
Take Me Out premiered in London in 2002, at the Public Theater in New York City later that year, and on Broadway in 2003.
- Kippy Sunderstrom, baseball player, “big dumb Swede” who’s smarter than he looks
- Darren Lemming, baseball player, gay (closeted until the end of Act I)
- Shane Mungitt, pitcher, “redneck” with a thick accent and intense rage
- Skipper, another baseball player (doubles as William R. Danziger, a random person who writes Darren a letter)
- Martinez and Rodriguez, two interchangeable baseball players who speak only Spanish
- Jason Chenier, another baseball player
- Toddy Koovitz, another baseball player
- Davey Battle, a baseball player for an opposing team
- Mason Marzac, Darren’s accountant
- Takeshi Kawabata, pitcher, a baseball player from Japan
Present day, New York City. Take Me Out, in a nutshell, is the members of a minor-league baseball team. In the first act, we meet most of the players, including newcomer Shane Mungitt – a man of few words, except for when it comes to outing his teammate, Darren Lemming. In the second act, we see the buildup of the team, its relationships, and the return of Shane; short-lived, as he pitches a ball at Davey Battle which takes him down for the count, for good. In the third act, Kippy and Darren attempt to get Shane out of prison, and despite winning the World Series, end up at an impasse.
Racism. Sexuality. Death. Nudity. Baseball. What’s not to love about a play that contains all of these things? But on a more serious note, this play deals with a ton of issues that are still prevalent in sports in the 21st century. As far as I know, there still are not any out gay Major League Baseball players, and incidents of racism still take place. What’s most interesting about this play is how multi-faceted all the characters are. Kippy refers to himself as a “big, dumb Swede” but is incredibly introspective and well-spoken, coming off at varying times as a lawyer, pastor, and philosopher. Darren, who is both mixed-race and gay, seems to be the most level-headed of the bunch, aside from Kippy. Rodriguez and Martinez only speak in Spanish, and I see this as akin to a “Tower of Babel” situation; they’re clearly talking about the same things that the others are, yet they can’t understand the English speakers and vice versa. Kawabata, the Japanese pitcher, is on an island of his own in the first two acts, speaking only Japanese, but reveals himself to be an eloquent English speaker in the third act.
Biting the Baseball?
The common denominator: we all get to see them naked (well, all except Marzac, because he’s not a baseball player). The shower is the one place where their differences get washed away; at the end of the day, or the end of the game, they’re all men, with the same DNA and despite differences in skin/hair/eye color, height, and weight, biologically the same as one another. In the first act, when Darren’s sexuality is known but not made a big issue, all the players being naked in the shower together is second nature. They talk, laugh, joke, and argue, taking no account of their naked bodies. In Act II, the first time we return to the showers after Shane outs Darren to the media at the end of Act I, there’s suddenly tension in the shower, embarrassment among former friends, and people turning around in different directions before quickly exiting the shower and dressing, akin to a loss of innocence, the innocence of ignorance to anatomy of your fellow teammates. Act II is also when we see the Shane/Darren incident in the shower, where Shane tries to ignore Darren, who’s not having it. It’s actually kind of hilarious when (mixed-race) Darren says that he knows (white) Shane’s secret, that he’s actually “a colored guy,” – you can do the math.
From the Baseball Field to the Bedroom
A final note…does anyone else not see the symbolism in “pitcher” and “catcher” in a play about sexuality and baseball? I guess Greenberg might not; Darren plays center field. The person who is said to be catcher is Jason; we do not end up finding out too much about him, other than the fact that he’s young, kind of dumb, and uneducated in the ways of the world. The two people who are pitchers are Shane, who represents the antagonism in professional sports against homosexuality, and Kawabata, whose story arc has nothing to do with sexuality and who rarely, if ever, interacts with Darren. It does, however, give new meaning to the line in Kawabata’s final speech in the play, and some his only words in English – “why must everything have meaning?.” If I had the chance to meet Greenberg, I’d ask him why he made those choices, but I’m suspecting I might get a Kawabata-style answer.
How I’d Flip It
For some reason, the image that came into my mind was that of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which I visited with my family when I was a kid. I don’t remember it that well, and maybe I’m amalgamating it with my visits to the Louisville Slugger factory in Kentucky, the Negro Leagues Museum in Missouri, or any of the many baseball stadiums I’ve been to, but there are displays about baseball players set up in lockers, with their uniforms hanging as if they’re about to go play or something, and I kind of imagine that setup, with each player “appearing,” as the script says, at least initially, from a designated locker, either in a straight line or a U-shape, and then each player’s shower head hanging above and in front of their locker. You could really mess with the audience by putting varying items in each locker, or by arranging the players in a specific order in the lineup: for example, if a U-shape, having Darren and Shane facing each other at the ends, or in a straight line, maybe arranged in some sort of racial order or something.
The very title of the play “Take Me Out,” is another interesting choice; you’ve got the American tradition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and the not-so-tradition of coming out in professional sports. And then there’s also the song that you’re already playing in your mind right now but I’ll link you to it anyway…