Playwright: Richard Greenberg
At: About Face at Steppenwolf Upstairs, 1650 N. Halsted
Phone: ( 312 ) 335-1650; $35-$40
Runs through: May 1
It's a situation rife with dramatic possibilities: a young, macho major league baseball player at the top of his game and making more money than anyone on the field, calls a press conference to announce that he's gay. From this premise alone, Richard Greenberg has the material to, at the very least, write a juicy gay potboiler, a sort of Patricia Nell Warren novel in dramatic form. Throw in lots of naked jock shower room scenes, and you've got the kind of stuff that could run to sold-out audiences for years, on prurient interest alone.
Thank God Richard Greenberg knows how to pitch a dramatic curveball that gathers remarkable depth in its momentum toward the sweet zone. While Take Me Out has all the earmarks of crowd pleasure, including the aforementioned nudity ( three shower scenes—one with the entire team which, I must confess, I found so distracting that any of the dialogue that escaped the lips of the characters evades my memory ) , and a wicked dose of humor, it is a serious play, a tragicomic examination of issues of tolerance, friendship, and self-awareness.
For its Chicago premiere, About Face and director Eric Rosen have mounted one of the most provocative and polished productions of the season. This story of Darren Lemming ( Derrick Nelson ) and his transformation from baseball superstar to gay baseball superstar works on many different levels; the amazing thing is how Greenberg manages to keep so many balls in the air at the same time … and make it looks effortless. Lemming's story encompasses not just discrimination against gays, but discrimination as a whole ( with side glimpses at the outsider Latin and Asian minorities on the team ) . We also see how being a discarded member of society can create a horror in human form: relief pitcher Shane Mungitt, whose reaction to a society he doesn't understand is to hate it ( much like NY Mets pitcher John Rocker, who bristled at having to ride on a New York train 'next to some queer with AIDS' ) . Greenberg also explores issues of family, conservatism, and forgiveness in his play, which is remarkable in the deft way it spirals its mix of comedy, social commentary, and drama down to its inevitable tragedy ( I won't spoil the final plot twists and revelations here ) .
Director Rosen has assembled an amazing ensemble and design team to bring Take Me Out to life. Returning to Chicago for the production, About Face original cofounder Kyle Hall creates a confident, yet fallible character as Kippy, Lemming's best friend on the team. Kyle Hatley, as the ignorant and hateful Mungitt, comes across as fully dimensional, and frighteningly real. But the person who really steals the show, and who dominates every scene he's in with achingly funny humor and likeability is Tom Aulino, as Mason Marzac, Lemming's gay financial manager who gets caught in not only all the drama of his number one client's well-publicized life, but who discovers the magic of baseball … and shares that magic with us.
Brenda Sabatka Davis' representational locker room set is versatile enough to become an interrogation room, a Chelsea apartment, and more. Janice Pytel ( costumes ) , Darin Keesing ( lighting ) , and Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman ( sound ) all make spot-on contributions to a play that truly hits all the bases: entertainment, artistic achievement, commentary, and thought provocation. Scheduled to run only until May 1, the smart ticket to book is Take Me Out.