In 1889, British author/playwright Oscar Wilde wrote “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life”.The truth of this is underscored by the current South Bend Civic Theatre production, “Take Me Out.”
The Tony Award-winning play by Richard Greenberg which also was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, examines the effects on a major league baseball team when its star player reveals he is gay.
It was written in 2002.
Since then, celebrity “outings” have become a regular occurrence, primarily in the field of entertainment and in individual sports. It was not until this year, however, that a professional athlete in a team sport, Dallas Cowboy’s Michael Sam, joined their ranks.
As charted by Greenberg, the announcement by Empires’ star center fielder Darren Lemming (Quinton McMutuary) hits his fellow players on the Empires baseball team in a variety of ways. Although they claim not to be upset, their easy camaraderie in the locker room, and especially in the showers, becomes stilted, self-conscious and resentful, even though Lemming makes it clear his feelings towards his teammates have not changed.
‘The whole mess” began, as recalled by shortstop Kippy Sunderstrom (Steven Matthew Cole), who serves as narrator, at Lemming’s press conference after the mid-season break. The bewilderment and frustration of team members at the new twist in relations with their star is characterized by teammate Toddy Koovitz (Mike Honderich) emerging from the shower and angry at feeling embarrassed with only a towel between himself and Lemming.
A losing streak brings relief pitcher Shane Mungitt (Richard Isacson) up from the minors. A taciturn loner, Mungitt’s prejudices are revealed in a disastrous, epithet-filled TV interview, resulting in his suspension. Lemming thinks of retiring immediately but is convinced to stay by his accountant Mason Marzac (Brad Mazick), a newly enthusiastic baseball fan who also is gay.
Playing an integral part in Lemming’s decision to come out is his best friend Davey Battle (Justin F. Williams), star player for another team, who is religious as well as a husband and father. Their friendship and rivalry touches many levels and, in the end, many lives.
“Take Me Out” is directed by Aaron Nichols, who proves again that he is one of the best in the area, delivering a clean, clear production that is smooth and sharp and hits all the right notes.
Designed by Jacee Rohick, the setting(s) moves swiftly and easily from locker room to playing field to interiors. Not only are these well defined, they are shifted quickly and quietly without detracting from the progressive action, illuminated sharply on and off the field by lighting designer Lloyd Whitmeyer
Each of the characters is definitely an individual, with some of the most humorous moments delivered by non-English-speaking players — David Seymour and Andy Barzelli as Martinez and Rodriguez, respectively, and Marion Deleon as ace pitcher Takeshi Kawabata — as well as by catcher Jason Chenier (Daniel Clymer), whose struggle to assure Lemming that he has no problem with gays is more than a little uncomfortably familiar.
In the clean-up position is SBCT veteran Mark Moriarty, batting well as the team manager, a bartender and a guard.
Topping the lineup of solid performances are those delivered by Cole, Isacson, Honderich and Mazick.
In case it’s not obvious, since much of the action takes place in the shower and locker room, there are many bare butts in view and the actors deserve much credit for being at ease in the altogether. If that, or if the frequent use of the f*** word is upsetting, this is not the show for you.
For everyone else, however, this excellent production by Nichols & Co. is a bases-loaded four-bagger.
“TAKE ME OUT” plays through Nov. 23 in the South Bend Civic Theatre Warner Theatre, 215 W. Madison St. For performance times and reservations, calls 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.com