note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Beverly Creasey
Red Sox fans are not the only ones with baseball fever. Not one, but two baseball shows are up and running this May. Now if someone would produce NO, NO NANETTE, we’d have a triple play. (NANETTE was the reason the Red Sox sold the Babe to New York.) Turtle Lane Playhouse is making a pitch for your attendance with that old chestnut, DAMN YANKEES---and SpeakEasy Stage (in association with Boston Theatre Works and Broadway in Boston) is giving us the chance to see the sensational 2003 Tony winning TAKE ME OUT. Richard Greenberg’s savvy script takes its signals from recent headlines about professional athletes who have come out of the closet…and who could forget John Rocker’s disgusting comments about New Yorkers. Greenberg’s script cleverly and elegantly combines the two.
TAKE ME OUT is narrated and anchored by Nate McIntyre as the well spoken and well meaning player who tries to keep everyone on an even keel. McIntyre gives a tour de force performance, mixing pathos with the comic timing of a pro to break the tension when things get serious. Ricardo Walker is mesmerizing as the MVP who rocks the boat by openly declaring his homosexuality. There is so much testosterone floating around the locker room that his teammates feel compelled to take sides. Then they start to lose.
Greenberg manages to keep more than one philosophical ball in the air and to his credit, the play doesn’t seem overcrowded with ideas. There’s the issue of causality: If one of the players hadn’t confronted another, would events have played out differently? Then there’s the issue of “Don’t ask-Don’t tell” vs. coming out.
The ensemble plays so beautifully together, that you can’t help but root for the home team. Greenberg gives us the requisite Ethnic mix of today’s pro clubs for his EMPIRES: The Hispanics who stick together, the Japanese pitcher whose English is limited to ERAs and RBIs and the white guys who go along to get along. But director Paul Daigneault never turns them into caricatures. They’re awfully funny at times but not held up to ridicule.
The biggest surprise comes when Christopher Brophy makes the despicable reliever from the minor league sympathetic. Brophy transforms himself with a slack Neanderthal jaw, a downward glance as if the muscles in his neck had shortened, and a furrowed brow, all of which match his halting speech. Just when you are hating him the most, he melts down and you have to feel sorry for him despite what he’s done.
The best lines in the play go to the flighty accountant who by chance inherits the MVP as a client. Neil Casey is exuberant as the innocent who finds sheer delight in discovering the mystique of baseball and its hilarious metaphors for life.
Eric Levenson’s partial diamond –we only see first, second and the hot corner—works completely to stand for the whole. There evidently has to be a shower scene in any play about baseball because both TAKE ME OUT and DAMN YANKEES have one, so Levenson invents an ingenious folding trough to catch the water in the explicit ablutions. (When you see TAKE ME OUT you’ll see why the shower scenes are necessary.) Levenson and lighting designer John Malinowski put us in the hot glare of the floodlights when someone comes up to bat. It’s one of the most polished productions you will see in town this season. Take yourself out and see what baseball is really like.
The players in DAMN YANKEES can sing all they want about heart. It’s the devil who stole mine. Eric Gordinas is a powerhouse of a performer. His joy is infectious. His baritone is sonorous and what a shame he only gets one song, the wicked “Good Old Days.” Director Elaina Vrattos gives him free reign and he gallops with it. He’s the reason to see the l956 Tony winning musical at Turtle Lane.
Here’s my dilemma. Gordinas has so much energy and such charisma that no one on stage can match it. I guess that’s OK because he’s the devil and he has to seduce poor Shoeless Joe and all the Joes before him into signing over their souls….but the void is there when he’s not.
Lindsey Taylor Pribble** is a gorgeous Lola, who dances divinely to Karen Fogerty’s choreography but her partners don’t and I’ll refrain from telling you who got the pain in the “Who’s Got the Pain” mambo.( I have an impish friend from New York who, when he directs a show, always has the “evil” critics do in the back of his mind. He cuts the lines that can be turned against him, even in Shakespeare, but I digress.)
Three of the other leads in the TLP production are double cast so I really mustn’t comment until I’ve seen both sets. The minor characters are sweet and everyone is earnest as all get out.
Jeff Gardiner’s crimson lights and HUGE bed (for this larger than life demon) are funny all by themselves. Here’s my other dilemma. I’m afraid DAMN YANKEES is dated, especially with its “family values” ending and its oft repeated Adler & Ross song about a good woman “abusing her husband” by taking him for granted. Puhlease. Didn’t they know what spouse abuse was in the ‘50s? Oh dear, I’m sounding like one of those cutthroat reviewers. I don’t know what’s come over me. I think the devil made me do it.
[FOOTNOTE: ** Though the program listed Margot Pyne as Lola the night Beverly saw the show, understudy Lindsey Taylor Pribble took over in the role. We regret waiting so long to make this correction. ]