Saturday, November 20, 2004

Play: American Game

Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg, directed by Joe Mantello, Seattle REP theatre, though December 4.

I really enjoyed this play, though I thought it a playwriting challenge. It's an all-male cast, so the script has to accurately handle how men communicate (which is to say, badly). It's a sports play, so it has to take a baseball diamond shrink it down to the stage while capturing the magic of the park. And it deals with gay and racial themes, which creates a whole new set of challenges of making the characters human and not going all preachy.

And it pulls it all off, by creating spot-on characters who are not stereotypes. Darren Lemming (M. D. Walton) is a young, multiracial, priviledged, incredibly talented superstar player for the fictionous Empires team. He's also a bit of a jerk, but more from the standpoint of cluelessness than anything else. He also reveals after the All-Star Break that he's gay. Not that he's seeing anyone. Not that he's about to be outed. Not that he's embracing the gay subculture. Not that he's doing it for any real reason that anyone can initially figure out. But he's gay.

This revelation creates ripples in the clubhouse, the events narrated by shortstop and team philosopher Kippy Sunderstrom (Doug Wert). It's a good peeling back of the social interactions that go into the team, or any organization. The team seems to weather the news well enough, but the pitching staff goes into a slump, necessitating the Empires to call up the brilliant reliever, redneck Shane Mungitt (Harlan George) from Triple-A ball. The nearly-monosylabic Shane speaks his mind about his fellow team-mates to the press, sparing no euphemisms, and things go downhill from there, with attempts to repair the breach making things worse.

Its a comedy with a tragedy at its center, but it works well, and it does so by bringing out all the characters in the cast. No one character is portrayed as ultimately noble or completely unredeemable, and victor and victim tends to turn upon who is talking. In addition to great job done by the three main actors of the ensemble with their parts, Robert Wu as Japanese pitcher Takeshi Kawabata and T. Scott Cunningham as Lemming's newborn-fan accountant Mason Marzac soar with their roles, but every actor digs into meaty parts on a great play.

One of the great things that the playwrite did well was handling clubhouse philosopher Kippy Sunderstrom, the smartest guy in the room. I had him pegged as the author stand-in, the guy so smart that he will come up with the answers to resolve the play. I hate that guy, and I've seen him in a lot of plays. Kippy is the smartest guy in the room, and the supposed answer man, but his own answers are what drive the plot to its ultimate tragedy and reveals that the smartest guy in the room has his own problems and shortcomings. Nicely, nicely done.

One big word of warning - if bare female shoulderblades on Monday Night Football give you moral reservations, stay away from this play. All-male cast. Baseball players. Shower scenes. You do the math.

More later,