"Take Me Out" - Richard Greenberg - MTC production

Picture a drunk guy stumbling round a pub near the time of last drinks. He lurches unsteadily in several different directions (often all at once) and picks on people in all corners of the room. He is itching for a fight, wants an opponent to get his fists into, and is happy to take on several at a time. He is indiscriminate, and doesn’t pick his target carefully at all. Even if he might have a chance against one of them, against many he doesn’t stand a chance.

“Take Me Out” is a bit like the drunk guy at the pub. It’s not content to take on just one or two taboos in a night, instead it wants to take on a whole army of them, one after the other and often in quick succession, and with weaker impact each successive time. The context for this is the locker room for a baseball team. Initially the taboo of the gay-male-as-sports-star is explored, with some fine dramatic moments and a tight script. Then the play considers the identity of African Americans, and as one character wryly observes “Baseball is the one area in life where white people will cheer for a black hero.” Then the role of language is played out, with the isolation of the Latino and Japanese team members and their exclusion from the group. And finally the hillbilly, the backwards hick who has risen far above his station in life just by being a part of the team. It’s a lot for a playwright to explore in a single play. But in the hands of Richard Greenberg, however, it looks effortless.

The latest production of the Melbourne Theatre Company, “Take Me Out” is a thoroughly interesting and edgy play. The all-male cast of 11 brings to life a team of major league baseballers enjoying life at the top of their profession, and the people who shape and influence them. When one amongst their ranks outs himself as gay, the dynamic of the group changes and a culture of fear and suspicion emerges, largely in spite of the efforts of the chief protagonist. In many ways the play serves as a parody of American conservatism, which seeks to idolise its sporting heroes without giving them the dignity of being human. Instead they are positioned as moral yardsticks, when the truth is often more complex.

As a theatrical production, TMO is absolutely stunning and is a beautifully executed piece of drama. The set is deceptively simple at first, but is used to great effect as the play develops. Throughout the two hours, the stage is transformed from a locker-room to an apartment to an office to a shower to a police interrogation room, all of which are highly tactile and designed with great dexterity. Music and lighting combine well to create the right mix of either sentimentality or righteous indignation, depending on what the moment requires.

The ensemble cast is bold and enthusiastic, and carries off the accents required of the script with great aplomb. The requirements for the role are rigourous, and all of them fulfil their onerous duty well. The male nudity in the play is considerable, and occasionally appears gratuitous, although the temptation to ham it up or play the situation for cheap laughs thankfully is avoided. There are great dollops of nude locker room philosophising, an element which would improve many a bland theatre production. The cast seems as comfortable during the early humour as it does when the play reaches a high emotional pitch. It is a particularly impressive performance from Kenneth Ransom, as the handsome, well spoken central character Darren Lemming. Ransom gives Lemming the affectionate, likeable personality that the lead needs to have for the story to hold together in the dramatic second act.

The play does suffer a little in its cultural translation. The script seems to have undergone very little adaptation at all for a non-American (and equally importantly, non-baseball) audience. The hokey sentimentalism of life at the baseball is completely lost on an audience who have no collective memory of the sport. Some of the best scripting are the brief narrations which posit baseball as a metaphor for democracy, and it unfortunate that the subtleties are lost. It would not be a huge leap of the imagination for the story to be told in an Australian setting, perhaps within the cosy confines of a football locker room. Perhaps a courageous Australian playwright in the David Williamson mould needs to take on the challenge.


Anonymous said…
So it was worthwhile dressing up for it then?


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