"Take Me Out," show #839; or, the show That I Nearly Walked Out Of
This will not be a critical review because it just can’t be for me. Take Me Out was the final show of my New York trip, about two months ago, and was a play I was excited to see because of the cast, the hype, and the title's legacy. As I sat in the audience, with my phone securely tucked away and a week of fulfilling theatre behind me, I was excited to see a play about baseball! In fact, it was a double-baseball day for me, having taken in the Mets opening day game—and victory—that afternoon.
Take Me Out has pieces of gorgeous text to it, especially when Richard Greenberg’s now two-time Tony-winning play (2003’s Best Play; 2022’s Best Revival of a Play) appeals to us baseball fans about the absurdities of the rules and love for the nostalgic feeling when one enters a stadium. These monologues, delivered with reverential novelty by the well-deserving Tony-winning Jesse Tyler Ferguson, made me lean forward in my seat and smile under my mask. But as the play continued towards intermission, I couldn’t help but feel the nuanced text was being given a surface-level performance. While I couldn’t necessarily pinpoint where the surface-level delivery was coming from (acting, staging, directing, my own bias?), I was convinced of my feeling when I overheard a father-of-color telling his son exactly what I was feeling and thinking. “Surface level acting, nobody is really committing, and the issues being dealt with are being forced into the locker room and field of a baseball story” the father said. His son, a little younger than me, nodded in agreement. I went to use the restroom. I returned to my seat after intermission, attempting to dive back into this world of the play with fresh eyes and refreshed opinion of this highly praised text. And then, the Interrogation scene came.
Now, up to that point, the character of Shane has been written, and played, to be a less-than-literate ace pitcher who can barely string a sentence together. Playing the pitcher with incredible commitment was Michael Oberholtzer, who received a Tony nomination for his work, and one can’t knock his volume and intensity when being accused of his intent of the infamous pitch. However, several hours into this play following a specific trajectory after Shane’s homophobic slurs towards Jessie Williams as Darren (the subject of the play, who comes out at the beginning of the play), we have Patrick J. Adams playing mediator-pitcher, Kippy, between Shane and Darren as they figure this situation out. Much like how Major League Baseball handles suspensions and re-instatements today, and as is handled with Shane in the play, I grew weary with how shouty director Scott Ellis allowed Oberholtzer to employ. It should be noted that both Shane and Kippy are presented as white baseball players while Darren is presented as a player-of-color. The following dialogue is where I, as they say, saw the third strike and was out:
SHANE: I’m jus’ tryin’ t’get a handle on things, ya know. I keep bein’ in these sitch’ations, I dunno. U-u-h-h. . . Th’own inta these sitch’ations. With all these. . .colored people and whatnot—
KIPPY: Why do you say stuff like that, Shane?
KIPPY: We are trying to help you—why do you have to say things like “colored people”—
SHANE: There’s nothin’ wrong with ‘at—‘at’s ‘ceptable—They call themselves that—
KIPPY: They don’t call themselves “colored people,” they call themselves “people of color”—
SHANE: What’s the difference?
KIPPY: We just have to take it on faith that there is one.
Now, on the surface, much like the performance, sure, this may not seem like a big deal. And, the evening I attended, this received one of the only laughs of the act. And I was appalled. Adams, during the written (Beat) turned to Williams—an actor of color, mind you—then to the audience, gave a bit of a shrug-wink to the audience and made the “take it on faith” line a laugh line, as if to suggest nobody really knows the difference so we just play along. This ruined it for me, and there wasn’t much left keeping me engaged as it was. Here we have a character-of-color on stage with two white-presenting characters who we as an audience are laughing at, what at this point is an argument full of ignorantly delivered but also somewhat informed slurs by Shane’s character. And we know better; we do know that there absolutely is a difference between the two phrases, especially when used to identify people-of-color. And yet, here we are, letting a white-presenting character make a joke out of it. Why didn’t the line receive an edit for this revival? Or if the “joke” just had to be there, why wasn’t it reassigned to the character-of-color so it became a lesson rather than a punchline? Why did Ellis direct the beat so it was a joke? Why did Adams comply?
This scene only gets worse for Shane as he goes into a tirade, hurling slurs and insults like he’s known them all along, which is a huge left turn from the set-up of Shane talking about how he doesn’t know any of those words nor that they’re bad, it’s just what he heard growing up. The inconsistencies weren’t resolved, but Ferguson and Williams delivered a sweet final scene at the ballpark before the final curtain. I stayed because I felt it important to experience if the play would resolve; I stayed because maybe I missed something?; I stayed because I was third in from the aisle and didn’t wanna be “that guy.”
After bows, and phones were unlocked, I charged out of the theater, fuming and in search of a beer so I could discuss what I just witnessed with my guest in libation-induced comfort. However, my guest, a much older, wiser, and seasoned thespian declared, “Now, THAT’s how you write a play! That’s Playwrighting 102 right there!” I thought he was joking. I couldn’t hide my face, now no longer behind my mask, and I blurted out much of what I have written here. My guest was shocked because rarely do I have such a visceral reaction. A patron near us, whom we did not know, smirked and gave me a nod in agreement. I know I’m in the minority here, and that’s just fine by me. But when so much work is being done to raise awareness, destroy inequalities, and give voice to those who have been silenced, mocked, and abused for so long, I guess a joke in a play mocking the very phrase-ology we use is an acceptable outlet for those who can’t bear to give up their entertainment of an established text. I guess I just have to take it on faith that everyone is simply smarter than I am. Oh, and the shower scenes were fun.