The star-studded cast of ‘Take Me Out’ takes center field on Broadway

The star-studded cast of ‘Take Me Out’ takes center field on Broadway

The long-awaited revival Richard Greenberg’s baseball play, is a blunt, humorous exploration of what it means for you to live your truth.

UPDATE: Since this original review, Take Me Out went on to win the 2022 Tony Award for Best Play Revival. It is returning to Broadway for a limited engagement, Oct. 27 through Jan. 29, at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. Patrick J. Adams will be replaced by Bill Heck as Kippy.

During the second half of Take Me Out — Richard Greenberg’s Tony-winning and Pulitzer-nominated play — business manager Mason Marzac (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who identifies as gay, gives an impassioned speech about baseball to his business client Darren Lemming (Jesse Williams, making his Broadway debut.) Marzac tells Lemming that baseball is America’s pastime but he didn’t care about it until Lemming came out. Anyone who walks into the show might feel the same. Although you might not be an expert on the sport, it will be difficult to leave the Helen Hayes Theater after just two hours and fifteen minutes and not be captivated by the story that unfolded on stage.

Take Me Out is the story of Williams’ Lemming, a biracial, Derek-Jeter-esque baseball player who is loved by both him and the public. He is also the star center-fielder of a fictional Major League Baseball team, the Empires. When Lemming chooses to publicly come out, he fails to believe — despite warnings from his best friend Kippy Sunderstorm (SuitsPatrick J. Adams) — that his proclamation will change anything on or off the field.

Patrick J. Adams and Jesse Williams in ‘Take Me Out’

Patrick J. Adams and Jesse Williams in ‘Take Me Out’

| Credit: Joan Marcus

Unfortunately, Lemming’s instinct is wrong. Throughout the course of the play, repercussions of his announcement unravel faster than a baseball hurtling down the center field line at 100 mph, starting with relief pitcher Shane Mungitt (Michael Oberholtzer)’s racially and homosexually-charged television interview that sets everything into motion. The fallout from Lemming’s announcement causes a team to lose focus and becomes distracted. This leads to a tragic display of anger, fear and misunderstanding between the players and the rest of the world that ultimately leads to tragedy on the field. Lemming must reconcile with the reality of the show’s events. He must also consider whether it was worth accepting his identity at the expense of others.

Greenberg first wrote Take Me Out after a Marzac-like obsession of the sport took hold back in 1998, when the New York Yankees had a record baseball season with 114 wins. In the following year, Billy Bean, a Major League Baseball player, retired and came out as gay. He was only the second such player in history. (Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics player Glenn Burke was first in the 1970s.)

Two years later, in 2002, Greenberg’s play had its first premiere in London where it ran for two months before transferring to New York. Following an acclaimed off-Broadway run, it went on to premiere on Broadway in February 2003. The current production, opening today and running until May 29, marks the first time the show has been revived in almost 20 years. In a sense, little has changed. You can still count on one hand the number MLB players who are not in the closet. Racism is still a major player, just as a star centerfielder. Male masculinity in the sports world — and entertainment — is still well-known.

Take Me Out

Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jesse Williams in Take Me Out.

| Credit: Joan Marcus

And yet, a lot has changed. This particular production was originally meant to open in 2020 but shut down in its first few weeks of rehearsals when Broadway went dark after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The show’s premiere will be with the same cast and creative crew that originally came together to bring Greenberg’s play to life. This dedication to the material and live theater can be felt throughout.

The production team’s minimalistic approach in setting design cleverly elevates and highlights the strong performances of Take me Out , acknowledging the fact that this play’s success and engagement are based on the sharp, nuanced relationships between the eight racially different cast members. Scott Ellis, the director, has also acknowledged this. He understands that what happens in a men’s locker is just as sacred as what happens in a Broadway theater. Even though the second and third acts are a little slow, it’s difficult to feel bored or tired when we watch intense conversations between characters with believable relationships and conflicts.

Much of that is due to Williams (already well-known for his stand-out charisma and talent thanks to spending 12 years as Dr. Jackson Avery on Grey’s Anatomy) and his ability to fully embrace and sell the charming, cocky personality that makes Lemming simultaneously adored and hated. Ferguson and Adams — two definitive sides and voices of Lemming’s narrative — each turn in highly charged performances, through Ferguson admittedly commands the stage with a confidence so dazzling that sometimes he even upstages himself with his performance.

Take Me Out

The ‘Take Me Out’ star-studded cast takes center field on Broadway

| Credit: Joan Marcus

Playing the tortured, misunderstood pitcher Mungitt, Oberholtzer more than holds his own against Hollywood powerhouses, and he gets his own chance to shine during the third act. It would be easy to say that the show’s success is due to its star-studded cast, which includes Broadway veterans, Tony Award winners, and network drama actors. However, it is impossible to watch Take me Out and forget why are so engaged. Unfortunately, we can all relate to its themes of homophobia and racism, class division, and sport-related masculinity.

Maybe coming to terms will make us uncomfortable, as uncomfortable as watching the cast members appear naked for long periods of intense and emotional conversations. Take me Out ‘s purpose is to make us uncomfortable. To make us think, feel, and to allow us to recognize our privileges and our relationships with others and ourselves, then it has done its job. It’s actually a hit. A

Related content:

Read More