Take Me Out
Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg's 2002 Broadway hit, explores with wit and compassion what might happen if a player on a major league baseball team were to announce that he is gay. Greenberg brings out many attitudes toward homosexuality by drawing his main character as a very specific, unique individual. Darren Lemming is the star player who has led his team to win two Worlds Series in a row. He comes from a middle-class, biracial family but has never faced any sort of racial prejudice. He is the ideal ballplayer on the ideal team, until the day he decides to announce his sexual orientation to his team: then his relationships change with his coach; his teammates; his new business manager, who is gay; his best friend, who is devoutly religious; and especially with the homophobic pitcher recently up from the minors, who refers to Lemming by using an offensive slur during an interview. The play is full of insights about baseball, masculinity, and identity in the twenty-first century, told with humor, and ending in tragedy.
Greenberg was a constant presence in the Broadway theater after his first works were produced in the 1980s. He has won or been nominated for most major awards available to playwrights, including the Pulitzer Prize, Drama Desk, the Oppenheimer Award, and the PEN/Laura Pels Award. Take Me Out was the Tony Award for Best Play the year that it opened, along with garnering Tonys for best actor and best director, but it is also known for generating controversy for including male nudity on the legitimate stage. Take Me Out was published by Faber and Faber in 2003.
Richard Greenberg was born in East Meadow, New York, on February 22, 1958 or 1959—official sources conflict. He was raised there in a middle-class household. His father, Leon, was an executive for the Century Theaters movie chain, and his mother, Shirley, was a housewife. After graduating from East Meadow High School in 1976, Greenberg attended Princeton University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1980; one of his instructors was the famed novelist Joyce Carol Oates. He went to graduate school at Harvard University from 1981 to 1982, studying fiction writing and finding that he did not like it as much as he did acting: at that point, he decided to try play writing. The play he wrote earned him acceptance to the Yale School of Drama, where he completed an M.F.A. in 1985.
Greenberg's first produced play, The Bloodletters, drew attention from critics when it was first produced in New York in 1985, and after that, Greenberg remained active in the theater world. By 2006, he had produced twenty-eight plays, almost always supported by critical raves. For a brief while in 2003, three of his plays were running on Broadway at once: Take Me Out, The Violet Hour, and a revival of 1988's Eastern Standard. At one point in the early 2000s, he had five plays in production at one time.
Though he lived in New York City much of his adult life, Greenberg worked with directors across the country. He was a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre and an associate artist at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California. He won numerous awards, including the 2003 Tony Award for Best Play for Take Me Out and the George Oppenheimer Award and the Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle Award, both for Three Days of Rain. He has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a nominee for the Drama Desk Award, both for Take Me Out. In 1996, Greenberg and playwright Arthur Miller were the first recipients of the PEN/Laura Pels Award for Drama.
Take Me Out starts with Kippy Sunderstrom, shortstop for the fictional major league team the Empires, talking to the audience, trying to pinpoint exactly when "the whole mess" started. He explains that Darren Lemming, the team's star center fielder, was an audience favorite, encouraged by all. After the All-Star break, the team started losing and brought up a relief pitcher from the minor leagues, and that might have been the start of it all. Then he settles on the problem starting on a day when Darren gave a press conference: the stage lights come up on Darren surrounded by the other members of the team as he speaks to the public about his hope that his being gay will not change how people act toward him.
The setting changes to the clubhouse, where Kippy and Darren discuss what this announcement will mean. Kippy says that the other players are certain to feel a little uncomfortable about Darren's sexual preference and will be a little resentful about not having been told earlier. Darren counters that he did tell Skipper, who assured him that the team would support him, but Kippy's warning comes true when teammates Martinez and Rodriguez pass by, grunting something inaudible. Kippy says that he would like Darren and whoever he is dating to come to the house for dinner with his wife and three kids, but Darren has no particular love interest at the moment.
Jason Chenier, the team's new catcher, enters. He approaches Darren timidly to say that, though Page 244 | Top of Article he never felt comfortable talking to him, he feels all right about it now after the announcement. In trying to compliment homosexuals, he refers to a book that someone he knows once read; he associates ancient Greeks with homosexuality and then incorrectly attributes the Egyptian pyramids to the Greeks. Kippy and Darren laugh about his ineptitude, and Jason leaves, embarrassed.
The lights come up on the locker room. Darren is by his locker, undressing, when Toddy Koovitz comes in from a shower. When Toddy takes off his towel, he becomes angry that he now must be self-conscious about being naked in the locker room around Darren, despite Darren's assurance that he has no sexual interest in him at all. Toddy tells Darren that his importance to the team will not keep God from punishing him, and he gives examples of other ballplayers—Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson, and Lou Gehrig—who he says were struck down by God. Darren dismisses him with bemusement.
Kippy returns to the spotlight as narrator, wondering why Darren chose to reveal his sexual orientation at that particular time, and the scene goes to a lounge where Darren and his best friend in baseball, Davey Battle, are drinking after a game in which the Empires defeated Davey's team. The two friends discuss their lives: Davey is a religious man with a wife and three kids, and Darren is mysterious and sarcastic, unwilling to talk about love. Their discussion ends with Davey telling Darren that he should want his true nature known to the world, and a week later Darren gives his press conference about being gay.
Mason Marzac comes onto the stage, introducing himself to the audience as a man who cared nothing about baseball until Darren made headlines with his announcement. Darren joins him onstage and the audience sees their first meeting, as Mason explains that he is the accountant assigned to handle Darren's finances now that his previous accountant, Abe, has retired to Florida. Darren notes that his commercials only run on late-night television since the announcement, assuming that his sexual identity is probably disturbing, and he implies that Mason is assigned to him because Mason is gay. Mason counters that he is, in fact, quite good at making money with the investments of people like Darren, celebrities who would like to make money for a time in the future when they will not be able to work. He asks Darren to select a charity to receive donations from him. When Mason tries to thank him on behalf of the gay community for being open about his sexuality, Darren counters that he does not feel like he is part of any community.
Kippy returns to the stage, explaining that, soon after, the team fell onto a slump and started losing games at an unprecedented rate. A relief pitcher, Shane Mungitt, was brought up from the minor leagues. Mason returns to the stage to list the philosophic things about baseball that he finds appealing: its symmetry, its democratic rules, and the leisurely pace it takes, as when a batter who has hit the ball out of the park is still required to take the time to trot around the infield, touching each base.
Shane comes onstage, and Darren and Kippy approach him, asking about his life. He was raised in orphanages after his father shot his mother and then himself, leaving the child Shane trapped with the bodies for three days. After telling them his story, Shane laughs maniacally. Kippy recognizes his problem as an inability to speak clearly and vows to help him. Before he gets a chance, though, Shane speaks out in a television interview, alienating himself from his team by talking about "colored people" and "gooks" and "spics" and "coons" on the team, saying that the worst thing is that he has to shower every night with a "faggot." The team, watching him on television, is frozen with horror.
The second act begins with the team's manager, William R. Danziger (or "Skipper") reading a formal letter that he has written to Darren, addressing him distantly as "Mr. Lemming" and stating his objection to Shane Mungitt's prejudiced remarks. The letter ends stating that, though he supports Darren, he wishes that he were not a baseball player.
Kippy enters and summarizes the situation: since Shane was so crass on television, most people have contacted Darren to express support, a situation that Darren finds degrading. Kippy points out that this incident has had a humanizing effect on the myth surrounding the team's best player, but Darren complains that going from godly to human is a demotion.
Because Shane has been suspended, the team starts to lose again. The resentment of the players is stated by Toddy Koovitz, who thinks that Darren planned for Shane to speak out against him, for the sake of gaining publicity. Kippy's theory is that the members of the Empires have become self-conscious, afraid of doing things that might make them look gay.
Shane returns to clean out his locker, and the teammates refuse to talk to him. Later, in the locker room, Martinez and Rodriguez speak to each other in Spanish, excluding their teammates: Kippy claims to recognize some of their discussion to be a criticism of Kawabata's pitching. He then claims to be able to translate Kawabata's reaction as a discussion of a classic Japanese film. As Kawabata speaks, Kippy translates his words as expressing his loneliness in America.
Shane talks about a letter that he wrote to the Skipper, apologizing for having offended Darren Lemming, explaining his own intellectual weakness and accepting the idea that he should be punished. The letter has become public, and the press soon reports the sordid details of his childhood, and he becomes a sympathetic figure in the fans' views.
Darren goes to Skipper to ask about the rumor that Shane will be allowed back on the team, registering his objection. Skipper tells him that the other team members would not mind Shane coming back if it means that they would start winning again, while Darren believes that it would be enough if Shane's return offended him, because he is the team's best player.
Darren calls Mason Marzac after the meeting and asks him to meet him at the stadium the following night. Mason narrates his thrill with being at the game, now that he has been following it and can appreciate baseball's subtleties. After the game, Darren meets him and explains that he is thinking of retiring from baseball the very next day. Mason tells him that he does not have enough invested to retire that early. He convinces Darren to stay with the game, at least until the next day's game against Davey Battle's team, which, Mason says, he has told the press is his favorite thing to do. Mason implores him, both as a gay man and as a baseball fan, to reconsider. Darren ends the meeting promising not to retire the next day.
The following day marks Shane's return to the team. Davey comes to the Empires' clubhouse to talk with Darren for the first time since Darren's public announcement that he is gay. Kippy has a brief discussion with Davey while he is leaving. At the same time, Shane is taking a pre-game shower, and Darren joins him. Darren's presence makes him nervous, and Darren eggs him on, taunting him about his racism and homophobia. He ends up going to Shane, grabbing him, and kissing him, pretending that he and Shane are lovers, though Shane shouts at him throughout the experience.
The ballgame goes well for eight innings, with Kawabata pitching a perfect game for eight innings and two outs. With one out to go, the opposing team starts scoring, and Shane is sent in to pitch against Davey Battle. Shane's first pitch goes straight to Davey's head, killing him.
Act 3 starts with Takeshi Kawabata talking to the audience, explaining the constant media coverage of Davey's death. Attention shifts to Mason taking a late-night phone call from Darren, who is sad and angry about the events. Kippy calls on Darren's other line to express his support and love for him. When he returns to his conversation with Mason, Mason asks Darren if Shane is going to be arrested. He says that some of the other players heard him coming out of the locker room before the game, muttering that he hates them all and vowing to kill somebody. Darren tells Mason that they should arrest Shane and that he should be arrested himself.
Kippy introduces the last meeting between Darren and Davey, in the clubhouse before the game. Davey is angry and sarcastic: At one point he asks if Darren is fleering at him, using an archaic word for smirking in derision. Davey finally confronts him directly, asking him if he has been thinking of him sexually over the eight years of their friendship. He also accuses Darren of using the public reputation that Davey has cultivated to hide his secret. They part angry with each other: Davey, to go on to the conversation with Kippy that is dramatized in act 2, and Darren to the scene in the shower with Shane.
At a Major League Baseball inquest about the fatal pitch, Shane refuses to talk, saying that he wants to speak with Kippy. Despite his reluctance, Kippy decides to go to him. But Darren decides to go along.
When they meet with him, they find that Shane mistakenly believes that there is a chance that he might be able to rejoin the team. At length, Kippy makes him see that he will never play baseball again. When he turns his attention to Darren, Shane refers to the attack in the shower. He also reveals the fact that he heard Darren and Davey cursing at each other when they parted before the game. When Kippy tries to find out whether the fatal pitch was on purpose, Shane says that Kippy could answer for him, just as Kippy wrote the letter that gained him enough sympathy to be let back on the team after he was thrown off for the offensive interview.
In narration, Kippy explains to the audience that the Empires won the World Series and that no charges were leveled against Shane, who returned to wherever he came from: one night Shane bought a shotgun and went from one store to another, shooting up all of the bottles of milk, and so he ended up in jail.
After the last game, Kippy talks with Darren, expressing his hope that they might someday be friends again. Before he leaves, Mason shows up. Being new to the game, Mason is enthusiastic about the team's win and only somewhat aware of the emotional trauma that the team has suffered. Darren begins to mention retiring again, but Mason stops him, feeling it inappropriate on the night of the World's Series win. Darren invites him to the party, giving him one if his World's Series rings to wear (though he admonishes Mason when he holds his hand up to look at the ring in an unmanly way, reminding him that "it's gonna be a roomful of jocks "). The play ends with Mason ruminating about what they will do until the next season starts in spring.
Davey Battle, Darren Lemmings's best friend, is a star player, but the team that he plays for is not as good as the Empires, which, as Davey points out, allows him to stand out more. Darren chides Davey for his middle-class religious values: his happy marriage, his three children, his unwillingness to use God's name in vain. Davey encourages Darren to keep no secrets, to live his life publicly, which leads to Darren's announcement about his sexual orientation.
Davey comes into the Empires' clubhouse the night that Shane Mungitt returns from his suspension, flouting the rule that prohibits members of the opposing team from entering a team's quarters. He and Darren have an argument, during which it is revealed that he has refused to talk to Darren since his announcement about being gay. Having thought that Darren was just a wild, successful bachelor, Davey feels betrayed to find out that he harbored a secret about his sexual orientation. Darren feels betrayed by Davey's anger and tells him to drop dead. Shane overhears the end of the conversation, and his first pitch to Davey hits him in the head and kills him.
Jason Chenier is a catcher who has been with the Empires for three weeks. Since coming to the team, he has been too shy to talk to the star player, Darren Lemming. After Darren announces that he is gay, however, Jason feels that he can approach him. He awkwardly tries to compliment Darren by saying that the ancient Greeks, who are associated with homosexuality, did great things such as building the pyramids (which the ancient Egyptians actually built). Darren and Kippy laugh at his ignorance, though he does not seem to know he is being mocked.
In act 2, when Kippy is talking to his teammates about their "stray homosexual impulses," Jason mistakenly believes for a moment that Kippy is talking to him in particular.
William R. Danziger
Takeshi Kawabata, the star pitcher for the Empires, started his first season on the team playing brilliantly, but in the second half, his game would go to pieces some time around the seventh inning. To make up for his slump, the team brings Shane Mungitt up from the minor leagues. In act 2, Kippy pretends to translate Kawabata's Japanese into English, giving his words meanings that fit an Asian stereotype, about his ancestors and honor and death. Kawabata speaks directly to the audience in imperfect English at the start of act 3, showing himself to be quite aware of what is going on around him and willfully ignoring it.
Toddy Koovitz, a member of the Empires, becomes belligerent after the announcement that Darren is gay. He feels uncomfortable about being nude in the locker room with Darren and resents the fact that he is made to feel this way. He warns Page 247 | Top of Article Darren that his importance to the team as a player will not save him from God's punishment, citing such examples as Roberto Clemente and Thurman Munson, who died in separate plane crashes, and Lou Gehrig, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Toddy is an illiterate man, given to pronouncing words incorrectly, such as saying "sanc-chewy" for "sanctuary" and "rackled" for "racked." Speaking of the fact that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease, he says "Gehrig's got a fate named after him," which leads Darren to note, "Ya got a real sorta poetry of the ignoramus goin' on." To prove his point about Toddy's lack of intelligence, Darren recalls a time, during a playoff game, when Toddy caught a fly ball and, thinking it the final out of the inning, handed it to a girl in the stands, while two runners from the opposing team scored.
After Shane Mungitt makes a public, very derogatory statement about Darren Lemming's sexual orientation, Toddy expresses the belief that Darren might have arranged the whole controversy to gain public sympathy.
Darren Lemming is the play's central character. He is the center fielder for the Empires, an excellent player on a team that has won the World Series twice in a row. Darren is biracial, with a white father and a black mother, and was raised in a stable middle-class environment, which, along with his talent as a ballplayer, has helped make him a favorite of the fans.
After a talk about authenticity with his friend and competitor Davey Battle, Darren holds a press conference, at which he announces that he is gay. His teammates are generally supportive: some, such as Jason Chenier, find him to be approachable in a way that he never was before, while others, such as Toddy Koovitz, resent the intrusion of sexuality into the private confines of the locker room. His public approval suffers some, with his television endorsements moved to late night hours.
When Shane Mungitt, a new player, bluntly refers to Darren as a "faggot " in an interview, public reaction supports Darren. Darren insists that Shane should be thrown off of the team because it is what he, as the star player, desires. The Skipper refuses, and Darren mulls over the idea of retiring that very night, but his accountant, Mason Marzac, talks him out of it. On the day of Shane's return, Darren goes to where he is showering alone, mocks and taunts him, then grabs him and kisses him.
The first time that he speaks with Davey after announcing that he is gay, Darren finds that he misunderstood his friend earlier. Davey was not encouraging him to live openly as a gay man, and, in fact, Darren's sexual orientation offends Davey's religious background. They part angrily, cursing at each other. Shane overhears this, which is one reason that he purposely throws the pitch that kills Davey.
Steeped with guilt, Darren goes on to play some of his best baseball, and the Empires win their third World Series. After the last game, he is depressed and thinking of leaving, but he is joined by Mason, whom he asks to attend the celebration dinner as his date, indicating what might be the start of a new love.
One of the Spanish-speaking members of the Empires, Martinez is always with Rodriguez and is indistinguishable from him.
Mason Marzac is an investment counselor who is assigned to handle Darren Lemming's money when his predecessor retires. He admits to having been uninterested in baseball until Darren announced that he was gay. His business association with Darren, along with his personal interest in him, draws Mason to baseball, so that by the end of the play he is an avid fan.
Mason is, by his own admission, quite successful as an investor: "I have taken some clients with fairly modest portfolios and made them rather wealthy," he says after Darren suspects that he has been assigned to him only because he is gay. He is enthralled by Darren from their first meeting, captivated by him as a hero to gay people everywhere because he has talked publicly about his sexual orientation. Darren, who takes his own eminence for granted, is bemused by Mason's devotion.
As the play goes on, they become friends. Mason can look at baseball as a theorist, as an outsider, speculating on the abstractions of players' records or the social significance of the pointless trot around the base when a ball has been hit out of the park. Darren decides that, to be part of the baseball world, Mason needs a nickname, and he takes to calling him Mars.
When Shane is allowed back on the team after publicly complaining about having to shower with Darren, Darren threatens to quit, and he calls Mason, as his financial advisor, to find out if he can afford such a move. The day of Davey Battle's Page 248 | Top of Article funeral, though, he calls Mason for solace. He asks to hear about Mason's life but is too distracted to pay attention.
After the Empires win the World Series, Mason joins Darren at the stadium, and Darren invites him to the celebratory party as his date. He gives Mason one of his World Series rings to wear.
When he first introduces Shane Mungitt to the audience, Kippy, as narrator, points out what a good pitcher Shane is, though lacking intelligence, and then notes that "he didn't seem to like the game." From the start, it is clear that Shane's skill is tied to certain psychological problems carried over from childhood. He is aloof from the other players, and, when questioned by Darren and Kippy, explains the terrible trauma of his early life: his father shot Shane's mother and himself when Shane was just a little boy, and he was trapped with their decaying bodies for three days, dehydrated when he was finally found; after that, he spent the rest of his childhood in one orphanage after another. The only thing that he ever learned to do well is pitch. When he tells them this tragic story, Shane laughs, although he says it is not made up.
Shane has such poor communication skills that during an interview with a reporter he refers to his teammates with derogatory racial slurs. He calls them "a funny bunch of guys," apparently unaware that the words he is using are offensive, and then elaborates by calling them "the gooks an' spics an' the coons an' like that." What makes the biggest headlines, though, is when he refers to Darren Lemming, the star of the team who has recently gone public about his homosexuality, as "a faggot." After that, Shane is suspended from the Empires.
The letter that gets him reinstated to the team, despite its characteristic misspellings and twisted grammar, is found later to have been written by Kippy, without Shane's knowledge. The day that Shane comes back, he overhears Darren arguing with Davey Battle, who plays for the opposing team. Shane, who has a ritual of taking three showers before each game, is in the shower alone when Darren enters, bringing to life the very fear Shane had complained about to the interviewer. He starts out making fun of Shane, but soon becomes physical, grabbing Shane and kissing him. When Shane is brought into the game, he throws a pitch that kills the first batter he faces, Davey Battle.
In jail, Shane pathetically believes that he might be allowed to come back to the team, not realizing that his baseball career is over. Released without being charged, he fades into obscurity, until one night when he drinks too much and takes a gun from one store to another, shooting milk bottles. He ends up in prison.
Rodriguez is never onstage without the other Spanish-speaking member of the Empires, Martinez. Their conversations together are a mystery to the other team members.
Skipper is William R. Danziger, the manager of the Empires. He is known for his personal skills, his ability to be tough when he needs to be and gentle when it is called for. Although Darren Lemming is loved by his public and his teammates, he is particularly important to Skipper, who, as Kippy points out, "thinks he invented Darren."
After Darren surprises his teammates by publicly announcing that he is gay, and Shane Mungitt publicly insults him because of it, Skipper writes him a formal letter, expressing both his support and also his frustration. Referring to him as "Mr. Lemming," he tells Darren that he would be proud to have a son like him, would support him if he were gay, and in fact would be glad, if his son were gay, if he had a lover like Darren. He ends the letter by saying that his feelings are hurt that Darren has brought his sexuality into the game of baseball.
After the decision has been made to allow Shane back onto the team, Darren goes to Skipper to explain that, because he is the team's star player, his opinion about the matter should take precedence over other factors, but Skipper just tells him that he should be able to adjust to the changing situation. Darren notes that Skipper refers to his affection for him in the past tense, a point that Skipper does not deny.
Kippy serves often as the narrator of the play, speaking directly to the audience and giving background details.
He is Darren Lemming's closest friend on the Empires. Their conversations are philosophical. Darren describes him as "The most intelligent man in Major League baseball," but Kippy counters that he only seems intelligent because he is not as large as Swedes usually are. He is the person with whom Darren will joke about the intellectual weakness of the other team members such as Koovitz, Chenier, Page 249 | Top of Article and especially Shane Mungitt. He is good at understanding the nuances of situations and explaining them to Darren and the other teammates. When Martinez and Rodriguez speak Spanish, and when Kawabata speaks Japanese, Kippy says that he can translate what they are saying, though his translations are vague and unconvincing.
When Shane has been thrown off of the team for speaking out offensively in public about Darren's sexual orientation, Kippy arranges to have him reinstated by writing an apologetic letter and signing his name to it, a fact that does not become public until after Shane has killed a batter. His secret is even more poignant because the batter who is killed, Davey Battle, is Darren's best friend off of the team, and Kippy shows a little jealousy because of it. His last words to Davey, said jokingly, are "We're gonna kill you."
The night of Davey's funeral, Kippy calls Darren and tells him that he may have been a little jealous of Davey's friendship with him. He tells Darren that he loves him, though he tries to take some of the seriousness out of the situation by saying "that's fraught, given the circumstances, but you know I mean it in an unfraught sort of way." At the end of the season, he confesses to Darren that he went to college on an academic scholarship, not an athletic one, but chose baseball over intellectual pursuits because playing is a celebration of life.
Take Me Out derives much of its dramatic tension from the contrast of two subcultures that have traditionally been kept separated: homosexuality and major league sports. Greenberg draws attention to the novelty of this situation by making Darren Lemming biracial, which his teammates and fans not only accept but actively support: as Kippy says in his introductory speech, baseball is "one of the few realms of American life in which people of color are routinely adulated by people of pallor," and Darren, being comfortable about his mixed heritage, is admired as someone who represents the best of both cultures.
Homosexuality is new to the world of baseball, though, and the play centers on Darren's teammates' struggle to adjust to it. Skipper, in a formal letter, expresses his wholehearted support for Darren as a gay man, but he also expresses his disappointment that Darren has openly brought homosexuality to baseball. Jason Chenier, a new player, sees Darren's announcement about his sexual orientation as a weakness that brings Darren, the team's star player, down closer to his level: while he was previously too intimidated to approach Darren, after the announcement he adapts a somewhat patronizing attitude toward him, citing references to past achievements by homosexuals that appear to be aimed at making Darren feel good about himself. Toddy Koovitz, on the other hand, turns angry and suspicious about the news, unsure about how the knowledge about Darren's orientation might change the locker room dynamic and afraid that it might make him change his own comfortable habits. Davey Battle, who is Darren's best friend before the announcement, rejects him with hostility upon finding out he is gay: the religious Davey cannot reconcile Darren's sexuality with his own views on the subject.
Take Me Out also shows the reverse situation, with gay culture, represented by quiet intellectual Mason Marzac, being introduced to the culture of professional sports. Mason comes into Darren's life with very little knowledge of baseball, but grateful to Darren for being open about his homosexuality. Because of his involvement with Darren, though, he begins following the game and becomes engrossed in it. He spins elaborate, abstract theories about the hidden significance of many of the rituals surrounding the game that baseball's traditional fans might take for granted.
Although it may seem to some that Shane Mungitt is the villain of this play, Greenberg draws the character very carefully to show that Shane is not bad at heart but that he is instead a victim of the lower-class background from which he comes. Even though Shane uses insulting words to describe his teammates and speaks derisively about Darren's sexual orientation in public (unlike players like Toddy Koovitz, who are just as derisive, but not in public), he also shows that he is disappointed that he cannot socialize with those same teammates, showing that his problem is not one of hatred, but of being too poor at communication to effectively express what he means.
Shane is the opposite of Darren Lemming in almost every way. Being the product of a "triumphant yet cozy middle-class marriage" has given Darren the education that he needs to speak his mind and the self-assurance that he needs to do so. When things go poorly for Daren, such as when Shane publicly insults him, Darren is in a position to insist that Page 250 | Top of Article his will be followed or to quit if it is not. Shane, on the other hand, was traumatized early on by his parents' deaths, and all of the anger that presumably came before it and followed in a succession of orphanages. He has not been raised to have the financial resources that Darren has, and more important, he lacks the emotional security to adapt to new situations. The one thing that Shane and Darren have in common is that they are both excellent baseball players: in putting such diverse characters into contact with each other, the play makes a point about how baseball transcends the ideas of social class that usually keep people separated in U.S. society.
When Davey Battle is introduced in the play, the audience is told that he is Darren Lemming's best friend. By the end, however, it turns out that Davey and Darren are the causes of each other's destruction, due to misunderstandings that they both have about the other's moral perspective.
In their first scene together, Darren and Davey joke with each other good-naturedly about their differences while maintaining their basic affection. Darren does not recognize the depth of Davey's religious convictions, and Davey does not see just how far from his worldview Darren actually is. Darren jokes about Davey's willingness to use some swear words but not others and about the fact that Davey will drink beer in a bar: he thinks that Davey is using their friendship to convince the public that he is a regular person. Davey tells Darren that he believes, regardless of what Darren thinks about himself, that he is a good man at heart who will feel better about himself once he tries leading an open and honest life. He knows that Darren is not in a loving, committed relationship but has no idea that he is gay.
After Darren's sexual orientation is announced to the public, Davey approaches him with anger. He refers to homosexuality as a demon and to Darren's "ugliness," and says that he would never have encouraged Darren to be true to himself if he had known that he was "a pervert." His anger and confusion are so great that he even accuses Darren of pretending to be his friend in order to have sex with him. The Christian love that Davey showered on Darren earlier, when he thought that he just needed confidence, is pushed aside by intolerance.
Greenberg's title phrase, Take Me Out, is an example of equivocation because it can be read or interpreted in different ways.
The title's most obvious reference, to a reader just approaching this play, is that the words "take me out" are the first words sung in baseball's unofficial anthem. At almost every baseball stadium throughout the country, each game has a seventh-inning stretch, when fans are invited to rise to their feet, stretch their limbs, and sing, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." This song, written in 1908, is estimated to be the third most frequently sung song in the United States, after "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Happy Birthday to You." It is an inextricable part of baseball culture.
But this play is also about romantic relations. When he first announces his sexual orientation to the world, Darren Lemming does not have a particular romantic interest in mind, a fact that he states emphatically to his friend Kippy Sunderstrom. By the end of the play, though, he has enough tentative connection to Mason Marzac for the audience to see a relationship starting to form, culminating is his asking Mason to be his "date" to the celebratory party after the last game. Although Mason never explicitly tells Daren to "take me out," the sense of going out and asking someone out is clearly implied in the title.
A third sense of the phrase is that it represents the opposite of what athletes usually request of their coaches. When watching from the bench and feeling enthused about being able to help the team, an athlete will often tell the coach to put him in: this phrase is highlighted in one of baseball's most famous songs, John Fogerty's 1985 tune "Centerfield," with its refrain, "Put me in coach, I'm ready to play today." Greenberg's use of the phrase in its negative form might be a reference to the fact that Darren Lemming is a reluctant player, planning his retirement from baseball, or it could refer to the way that Shane Mungitt destroys his career, implicitly asking to be taken out of the game. Ominously the phrase also suggests an invitation to be murdered.
Several times in Take Me Out, characters step away from the dramatic situation that is being acted onstage to talk directly to the audience. Kippy Sunderstrom does this most often, but it is also done by Mason Marzac and Takeshi Kawabata.
The idea of directly giving audiences information that they need, rather than working the information into the situation that the characters are dramatizing, is hardly a new one. It has its roots in the dramas of the great Greek playwrights Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.E..), Sophocles (496-406 B.C.E..), and Euripides (480-406 B.C.E..). Their plays relied on the use of a chorus of citizens to provide background information to the audience. As drama evolved, however, playwrights tended not to have characters directly tell background information, called exposition, to the audience. The usual method has been to let the action and dialogue that takes place between the characters onstage convey all of the information that audiences need to know. By having Kippy narrate the story in the way that he does, Greenberg relies on a device that goes back to the roots of Western drama.
The speech that Kawabata gives at the beginning of act 3 resembles a specific kind of narration, a soliloquy. Different than narration, the soliloquy reveals the speaker's internal thoughts and emotions. Mason's speech about baseball as "a perfect metaphor for hope in a democratic society" is also a soliloquy, though it does not look like one to the casual eye. The speech does not convey any information that is necessary to understanding the play's story but is instead meant to give Mason's personal perspective. While a soliloquy gives private thoughts and emotions, Mason's speech sounds more like a philosophy lecture. This is because he is an analytic, dispassionate character himself, whose personality thrives on developing new theories: what sounds like a lecture is an accurate reflection of his inner emotions.
Homosexuality in Organized Sports
When Take Me Out was produced, no players for any major league sports teams were openly homosexual. The first player in any team sport to Page 252 | Top of Article come out about his sexual orientation was Dave Kopay, an NFL running back who was retired for several years before going public. The NFL also produced Roy Simmons, who played offensive guard for the Giants and Redskins from 1979 to 1983 and then revealed his orientation on the Phil Donahue talk show in 1992, and Esera Tuaolo, an offensive lineman who announced that he was gay and that he and his partner had two adopted children, but kept his private life a secret until 2002—three years after he left football.
Major League Baseball had only had two admittedly gay players and one gay umpire, and none of them came out to the public about their sexual orientation while their careers were going on. The first player was Glenn Burke, an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics during the 1970s. Burke kept his life as a homosexual a secret from the public: at one point, the Dodgers offered to pay for an opulent honeymoon if he would participate in a sham marriage to a woman, but he refused. In 1980, after a brief retirement, he returned to the Oakland A's, and their manager at the time, Billy Martin, made disparaging remarks about not wanting gays in the clubhouse, although he named no names. Burke injured his knee that year and retired. He revealed his orientation during a 1982 interview with Inside Sports, and went on to be a participant in the 1982 and 1986 Gay Games. Although he was a barrier breaker, he died a forgotten man: after a car accident ruined his leg in 1987, he spiraled into drugs, which led to jail and then homelessness. He died of AIDS in 1995.
Billy Bean, who was an outfielder for the Tigers, Giants, and Padres from 1987 to 1995, came out publicly in 1999. His autobiography, Going the Other Way, tells of the jibes that he had to suffer from his teammates about his sexuality, including the fact that he felt compelled to skip the funeral of his domestic partner, who had died of AIDS, in order to keep their relationship a secret.
Dave Pallone was a major league umpire for eighteen years but was quietly dismissed in 1988 because of rumors about his sexual orientation. Later, he published an autobiography and traveled the country giving speeches about sexual orientation, diversity, and acceptance.
While there are still no openly gay players in the four most prominent team sports—baseball, football, basketball, and hockey—there are gay athletes in sports that compete on an individual basis. The most prominent of these are tennis superstar Martina Navratilova, who came out about her sexuality in 1981 after speculation about her relationship with author Rita Mae Brown, and Greg Louganis, one of the greatest Olympic divers in history, who went public about his orientation in 1994. In a Sports Illustrated poll published in March of 2006, a majority of players in each of the four major professional sports said that they would welcome an openly gay teammate, with 61 percent of major league baseball players responding positively, according to the Outsports.com website.
The John Rocker Controversy
A few years before Take Me Out was produced, John Rocker, a relief pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, became famous around the world for controversial comments similar to those made by Shane Mungitt in the play. In an interview with Sports Illustrated published in 2000, Rocker, who had been harassed by New York fans during the 1999 playoffs against the Mets, said that he would never be able to play in New York:
It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [Number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing.
An overwhelming public outcry followed, during which widely diverse fans all around the country called sports shows to voice their outrage. For weeks he was mocked on comedy shows such as The Tonight Show, The Late Show, and Saturday Night Live. He was suspended for the first twenty-eight games of the season, though his suspension was later revised to just fourteen games.
At Rocker's first game in New York after his suspension, Mets officials called on ten times the usual number of police for protection. Beer sales were limited, and a special protective cover was installed over the Braves' bullpen for protection. Before the game, a taped apology from Rocker was played on the stadium's giant television screen. Rocker was brought in to jeers and chants during the eighth inning and went on to win the game, but his career spiraled downward after that: in quick succession he was traded from Atlanta to Cleveland to Texas. He played only two games for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the start of the 2003 season before the team dismissed him. His last comeback was, ironically, in the New York metropolitan area, where he pitched for the Long Island Ducks in 2005, compiling a dismal 6.50 Earned Run Average in twenty-three games.
Critics have generally viewed Take Me Out as a heartfelt work that is clearly knowledgeable about both the game of baseball and what it is to be public about homosexuality in the United States of the twenty-first century; still, most critics have tempered their support for the play by expressing discomfort about Greenberg's two-dimensional handling of characters, particularly Shane, while giving other characters verbal abilities that seem quite unlikely to be found among ballplayers.
Some reviewers had nothing but praise for the play when it ran on Broadway in 2002. For instance, David Kaufman, writing in Nation, starts his review with a brief overview of how far theater has come in portraying gay issues onstage since the 1960s, determining that Take Me Out "is indeed one of the best gay plays in years," noting that "Greenberg seamlessly ties together matters of sex, race, multiculturalism, politics, political correctness, and celebrity." Stuart Miller's review in the Sporting News was also laudatory, but with reservations. "The plot falters with its climactic contrivances," Miller writes, "and the numerous nude shower scenes may turn off some, but the play stirs emotions on issues ranging from friendship to trust to hero worship. Score Take Me Out a stand-up double—it doesn't quite hit the ball out of the park, but it provides plenty to cheer about."
Elysa Gardner, the reviewer for USA Today, touches on the reservations that most reviewers had when praising the play. Gardner points out how the move from Off-Broadway to the Walter Kerr Theatre drew attention to the play's weaknesses: "The bright lights and bustling dialogue that dazzled in a smaller setting are now too flashy at times, and at other points reveal flaws in Greenberg's impressive text." She also notes the disparity between the verbal acumen of Kippy and Darren in the play, while the foreign players and, especially, Shane Mungitt, are left inarticulate, explaining that "the playwright's cavalier mockery of the others is self-defeating." In the end, though, the review characterizes the play as "a winner."
A few critics did not care for the play, such as Bill Hagerty, who reviewed the London production in 2002 for the Hollywood Reporter. His review notes that
Greenberg never loses the audience's attention…. But if the writer is suggesting that big-time sport and homosexuality mix as happily as salt and sugar, it is a simplistic conclusion. If he is attempting to say more, it still hadn't emerged by the bottom of the ninth.
This review, unique in its weak enthusiasm for the writing, credits the acting and directing but determines in the end, "This baseball saga sports a disappointing batting average.
Kelly is an instructor of English literature and composition. In the following essay, he examines why Darren Lemming remains a sympathetic character, despite his behavior in the play.
In his play Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg imagines the day, which by all reasonable estimates cannot be long off, when a major league baseball player will publicly announce that he is gay. Of course, like most other persons who have successfully broken down invisible social barriers, Greenberg's fictional center fielder Darren Lemming is an extremely talented player, whose dominance of the game is widely accepted. This removes any question of whether gay players are as capable as Page 254 | Top of Article straight players. The fact that Lemming is, in fact, a superstar earns him more freedom from his fans than a lesser player would enjoy.
The play illustrates how the world reacts to Lemming's sexual orientation when another player, Shane Mungitt, makes a harsh public reference to having "a faggot " on the team. Not only are those viewing the play left with dropped jaws by the disrespect shown to Lemming, but Greenberg makes it clear from Mungitt's immediate suspension from Major League Baseball that baseball fans in the world of the Greenberg's play side with Lemming. They continue to consider Lemming a hero and will not accept a verbal assault against him. Any ambivalence in how the fans feel about the opening of baseball to gays is mild and contained: one character mentions that Lemming's commercials have been shifted to late-night television, but that is a much more measured reaction than pulling them from the airwaves completely. Nothing is said of riots outside of stadiums, of increased violence against gays, or plummeting ticket sales, all of which conceivably might happen under such circumstances.
Greenberg establishes Lemming's popularity very early in the play, at the same time that he acknowledges the clear contrast between the way homosexuals have been excluded from professional sports and the ways that racial minorities have gained acceptance. Kippy Sunderstrom, the clubhouse intellectual who narrates much of the play's back story, explains within the first few lines that Lemming is the product of a white father and a black mother, noting, "Even in baseball—one of the few realms of American life in which people of color are routinely adulated by people of pallor, he was something special: a black man who had obviously not suffered." These few lines set the tone of the play, and of the public's mood, in several ways.
For one thing, this line tells audiences, in case they did not know it, that the color line has been rendered all but irrelevant in the world of professional sports. It holds as true in the world of this play as it does in real life: there may be a few fans here and there who might hold back from supporting a player of a certain race, but expressing such a view would certainly mark one as an oddity among true sports fans.
Another thing the quotation reveals is Darren Lemming's complete dominance of the game of baseball. He is not just "adulated," which would be good enough for an ordinary sports hero, but he is "special" in addition to that. Lemming is established as being among the best of the best from the script's first page on.
The third and most unstable idea that comes out of Sunderstrom's sentence is the actual reason why Lemming is thought of so kindly by his fans. If this quotation is correct, several assumptions are running through the mind of a fan who accepts Lemming. One is the assumption that most black players have to suffer to reach the major leagues. Another is that audiences have heard so much about black players who have suffered that they find Lemming, with his happy, well-adjusted background, to be a refreshing change. The last is that Darren Lemming has had such a smooth life that the lack of suffering in his background is obvious.
While Lemming's widespread popularity is taken as a given at the beginning of the play, the truly surprising thing is that it holds up until the end, regardless of who he shows himself to be in the intervening time. Darren Lemming is not at all humble. He acts toward both his teammates and his fans as if he deserves every bit of honor given to him, plus more. He is disgusted with fans who have the nerve to offer him compassion after he has been publicly insulted, feeling that compassion brings him down to the level of a common person: they should envy him instead. He rails against people who try to understand him, pouts when his word alone is not enough to have Mungitt thrown out of baseball, and mocks the people who adore him. By all rights, Lemming should wear out his welcome with the theater audience by the time Take Me Out is over. When the final curtain falls, however, Greenberg leaves audiences feeling more sympathy Page 255 | Top of Article for Lemming than for Davey Battle, the character who was killed by a wild pitch, or for Mungitt, the character whose mental and emotional shortcomings lost him his chance to do the one thing that he really understands.
To some extent, empathy for Lemming is the natural outcome of the play, its only proper, satisfactory conclusion. The story starts out with a player who has everything he could want in his professional career but lacks the ability to love freely, so it is reasonable to feel that the play has reached its fulfillment once he finds someone to love. Audiences may have doubts about Lemming's hubris throughout the play, but, like the dramatic convention of bringing up a wedding at the play's end, no matter how contrived or remote, to signify a happy ending, the budding relationship between Lemming and Mason Marzac in the last scene lets everyone leave the theater feeling good.
Greenberg goes further than just providing a happy ending. He also makes it easier to sympathize with Lemming, regardless of how the character might feel about such sympathy, by showing those characters who oppose him to be misguided, foolish, and even evil.
In this play, it is sadness, not anger, that dominates the clubhouse mood after Lemming's orientation is acknowledged. This is best expressed in the letter that the team's manager, William R. Danziger, sends to Lemming soon after Mungitt has humiliated him publicly. Danziger is not at all equivocal about his feelings for Lemming: he expresses his great regard for him as a player and as a man. By saying that he would wish that if his son were gay he would have a lover like Lemming, Danziger shows that he has no fear of homosexuality. Still, despite his respect, it distresses him that Lemming has introduced homosexuality into baseball. Danziger is a man who loves the game, and he regrets seeing things change. He does not speak with anger, but he clearly is not happy with this turn of events. His attitude seems to be like that of Page 256 | Top of Article most baseball fans in the world of Greenberg's play: disappointment and acceptance.
Of course, the central relationship in the play is the one between Darren Lemming and Shane Mungitt. Mungitt is uneducated and was traumatized as a child; he has ended up the diametric opposite of Lemming. He is racist and homophobic, airing his anxieties in public. In the end he kills a man, probably intentionally. He is not a sympathetic character, but, once the story of his parents' murder/suicide is explained, it is also difficult to blame him for his ignorance. Greenberg does not make Mungitt an evil character, just one who is unable to behave well. He may be a victim of circumstances, but he is so lacking in the attributes that make Lemming admirable that his collapse is not even a moral issue.
The character who represents evil in the play is Davey Battle. Like Lemming, he is a star player, and he is Lemming's best friend, a fact that is told to the audience several times. Battle has all of the attributes that should make him sympathetic, but in the play's climax, he turns out to be missing what might be the most important element of all: empathy for Darren Lemming. He finds that he cannot tolerate the fact that Lemming is gay, which leads to an argument that Mungitt overhears, which results in Battle's death. Audiences can register how sad it is that a man has been killed over a simple misunderstanding, but in the play's larger moral sense, Battle's death is not a misunderstanding at all: his opposition to Lemming earns him his just reward. As a character, Davey Battle loses audience support because of his own intolerance, which turns out to be a more serious, punishable offense than Mungitt's ignorance or even Lemming's rage against Mungitt.
The main character of Take Me Out does not behave admirably. He is proud and arrogant to such an extent that he preys on the weak-minded Mungitt's fear of male intimacy, and he turns against fans and teammates who want to sympathize with him. Still, he is a sympathetic, even sweet character in the final scene. The play is crafted to keep audiences connected to Lemming, to take them as far as they can go with a fictional character whose behavior would probably be found unacceptable in real life.
Source: David Kelly, Critical Essay on Take Me Out, in Drama for Students, Thomson Gale, 2007.
In the following review, Ellenzweig explains that Take Me Out is about the quick turn to intolerance when a black baseball player announces he is gay. He also praises O'Hare's performance as Mason, Greenberg's "mouthpiece" for his obsession for baseball.
When Richard Greenberg's play Take Me Out first played downtown at The Public Theater several months ago by way of London's Donmar Warehouse, much of the buzz concerned its lavish display of male nudity. Not since Mary Martin had to wash that man right out of her hair had the act of lathering up seemed so novel a theatrical idea. Now Take Me Out has been moved to Broadway in a two-act instead of a three-act version. Though I can't speak to that change, having missed the former production, I can assure interested parties that a chorus line of well-built men taking a shower on stage will not hurt its commercial fortunes.
The scene in question is not a cheap trick, however, occurring in a play about baseball that considers the consequences to a team of a star player coming out as gay. The athlete in question, one Darren Lemming, has the additional distinction of being half black and half white. Until his gay declaration, he has managed to attain iconic status and has prepared no one for his burst of candor. As played by Daniel Sunjata, Lemming is a brash, cocky, smug gay rake who has had enough of the duplicity of the closet.
While the play's narrative revolves around the various reactions of his fellow Empires in pinstripes (think New York Yankees), the emotional heart of the play lies elsewhere. Lemming takes on a new business manager in the person of Mason Marzac, a sober gay schlemiel who bones up on baseball the moment the young hunk becomes his financial charge. Here, in the impish performance of Denis O'Hare, the playwright finds his mouthpiece. Mason is a seriously controlled and hemmed-in personality, but his growing adoration for the game of baseball loosens his tether and releases the pixie inside. In O'Hare's alternately droll and intoxicating demeanor, we get the great pleasure of watching a gay nebbish bloom, his heart gone loopy over the numerological wonders of nine players arrayed around a diamond over the course of nine innings. In interviews, Greenberg has admitted to his own conversion to the great American pastime. He obviously has poured his new obsession into the character of Mason Marzac.
If Mason is the uptight gay man getting in touch with his inner jock, Shane Mungit is an inarticulate redneck pitcher (think John Rocker of the Atlanta Braves) who publicly reveals the breadth of his bigotry toward his fellow teammates, and thus propels the climactic drama of Take Me Out. In reaction to a sexual provocation by Lemming—aimed at forcing Mungit's homophobic response—the inchoate feelings of this white trash phenom find their way into a wild pitch aimed at Lemming's best friend, Page 257 | Top of Article another African-American player on an opposing team. Frederick Weller brings a sense of inexpressible grievance to the mullet-haired Mungit, and doing so, he matches the three-dimensional rapture of O'Hare's baseball-smitten gay number-cruncher.
Take Me Out does better at bringing into view the fault lines of race and class in team sports than in developing a fully realized comedy-drama. Its weakness lies in a central character, Lemming, whose arrogance and self-love never reveal themselves as the armor of a gay black man struggling for a place in the pantheon of American heroes. The internal tensions in his plight might have played out in his relationship to the upright Davey Battle, his rigorously moral black colleague from another team. Lemming and Battle seem fully prepared to enact the loneliness of the African-American athlete in their one heated exchange, but by then it is too late. Greenberg has not prepared us sufficiently for this theme, although he drops hints throughout Take Me Out that his protagonist's race has never been a problem for him. For certainly to be black and gay demands of a young man a reckoning with his own heart and his twin communities.
There is much to admire in Greenberg's writing. His comic lines are full of sass, sometimes coming as fast and furious as those in a 1930's screwball comedy. And in the character of his play's narrator, the loquacious and thoughtful Kippy Sunderstrom, Greenberg proposes the device of the Stage Manager from Our Town or the memory guide such as Tom in The Glass Menagerie. In this, he achieves a direct line to the audience and a sense of intimacy. As a work of art, Take Me Out has more height than depth—a gorgeous surface veneer, like that line up of young bucks soaping up in a locker room shower.
Source: Allen Ellenzweig, "It Takes a Jock," in The Gay & Lesbian Review, Vol. 10, No. 3, May-June 2003, p. 50.
In the following review, Take Me Out is described as a microcosm of the nation, "plagued" with the same "social issues" experienced during the twentieth century. The essay ends with an interview with Greenberg, and he discusses "the mix of homosexuality and baseball" in his play.
Last century began tinged with an optimism alien to today's jaded baseball fans. To quote a 1901 issue of Baseball Magazine: "Thomas Jefferson, when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, made proper provision for baseball when he declared that all men are free and equal. That's why they are at the ballgame, banker and bricklayer, lawyer and common laborer."
This sunny-sky view of the American polls has suffered its share of rain delays over the past 100 years. Whether at Ebbets Field or Camden Yards, decade after decade proved that all men were not always created equal, even in that most pastoral of settings. In fact, baseball struggled—in lockstep and in microcosmic form—with the same social issues that plagued the nation throughout the 20th century. Alongside the game's heroic tales there have been seamy stories of labor strife, corruption, gambling, racial prejudice and, now, drug use. The American experiment is far from over, and baseball—despite its geometric and algebraic perfection—is far from "perfect" in the sociopolitical realm.
Over the past two decades, a handful of "baseball plays" have grappled with social issues. Allen Meyer and Michael Nowak's The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy, about a deaf Chicago White Sox player in the 1910s, addressed disability on the diamond in its 1987 premiere at Chicago's Commons Theatre. That same year, August Wilson's Pulitzer-winning Fences—a stirring drama about the fictional Troy Maxson, who was kept from big league play because of the game's ban on black athletes—debuted on Broadway. In 1994, Eric Simonson's adaptation of Mark Harris's 1956 novel Bang the Drum Slowly—a play about a dying ballplayer that ran at Boston's Huntington Theatre—was, according to its author, "made relevant in the age of AIDS."
More recently, in 2000, Lee Blessing's Cobb (first staged by New York's Melting Pot Theatre Company) rose above the mere baseball bio-play by placing a decidedly politically incorrect athlete in proper cultural context. (Blessing's antihero, the bigoted Ty Cobb, is shown in Blessing's imagination to be haunted by Oscar Charleston, who played Page 258 | Top of Article in the Negro Leagues and was known as the "black Cobb.") Last season, Ken LaZebnik's League of Nations (which premiered at Minneapolis's Mixed Blood Theatre in March) used one team's pitching rotation—which included a Korean, an African American, a Mexican and a hot new Japanese import—as a portrait in miniature of this country's roiling, sometimes boiling, melting pot. Still, despite these admirable efforts from socially conscious playwrights, the phrase "baseball play" usually conjures but one: Damn Yankees, Adler and Ross's 1955 Goethe-meets-Doubleday musical that dressed the Faust legend in cleats and made the Washington Senators sing "you gotta have heart."
Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out (which is currently having its U.S. premiere at New York's Public Theater) is the first major play to grapple with homosexuality and its uneasy overlap in the world of professional baseball. But Greenberg's play is about much more (and, in its true-to-baseball spirit, much less) than sexual politics: As the playwright himself explained, the real love story in Take Me Out is with the game, pure and simple. The play—concerning Darren, a young superstar who decides, in a mixture of hubris and candor, to "come out" to his adoring fans as a red-blooded, 100-percent homosexual (he doesn't even, uh, swing both ways)—premiered at London's Donmar Warehouse last June to mostly rave reviews. Writing in the New Yorker, critic John Lahr asserted that "if there's anything that confounds the British more than American optimism, it's baseball … a game—some would say a ritual—of hope." Nonetheless, the result of Greenberg's "mischievous ambition: to marry the old ballgame with gay politics" is "exhilarating." Lahr suggests that Take Me Out would win over even the most resistant Brit who might find the project not quite cricket.
Take Me Out's implicit message—that social issues sit like thorns in the manicured green fields of ballparks—may explain why professional baseball is sometimes a bit tentative in its approach to cultural politics. (And when it comes to professional theatre, why for every Cobb there will always be a hundred Pride of the Yankees—or, for that matter, Damn Yankees.) This has less to do with players, owners, sportswriters and, for that matter, playwrights-who-are-fans "being in denial" than it does with the ontology of the game: The panglossian spirit cannot be extracted from baseball's very essence (as the quote from Baseball Magazine attests). Darren doesn't believe his admission can hurt him because the fans will still come out, rosy-eyed and rooting to the end. That's baseball's way, and you see it in every game.
And this spirit pervades more than each individual game: For the true aficionado, there's always that irresistible force of optimism in the face of adversity that peppers the larger epic drama that stretches out over every season. Hope "springs" eternal (even for Cubs fans) in spring training, and "falls" for most by the end of October. Even if your team is showing you (as Casey Stengel said of his hapless Mets in 1962) "new ways to lose," with the right midseason trades and a little bit of luck … well, you never know how things will end up. Baseball—perennial, passed on to our kids and prone to extra innings—tends to play out as the theatre of American renewal.
To wit: This conversation took place when a baseball strike appeared imminent. But like fans down by two runs in the bottom of the ninth, both the interviewer and his subject seemed illogically, even desperately, hopeful. In baseball (like theatre), there's always next season.
[Steven Drukman:] You know why I'm writing this piece, don't you?
[Richard Greenberg:] Well, I never knew but just found out you were an incredible baseball fan.
I am, but we're on opposite sides of the fence, so to speak.
Oh, God, you're not from some place like Boston, are you? [they both laugh ] Well, we can still talk.
Well, this launches us quite easily into what I've always believed: that baseball allows us to play out our particular geographical, social, ethnic (you name it) issues, but in the end, baseball itself is what's important. Red Sox fans like me love our pious Brahmin pessimism almost as much as we love our team.
It's true. You Red Sox fans—your misery concretizes all those New England virtues, that Protestant deferred gratification. And now, I guess, after 83 years of losing in the post season, that's a lot of deferral. And you guys are always complaining about the Yankees, blaming our payroll.
Oh, New Englanders are a l w a y s r ying poverty. We're thrifty.
You're martyrs. The Diamondbacks just played a series with the Red Sox—and swept them—but your fans didn't care: They just kept coming up to the Diamondbacks and thanking them for beating the Yankees in the World Series last year! That's nuts. And as I say in my play Three Days of Rain, "Boston isn't a city, Boston is a parish."
We finally agree. Now is Take Me Out your first baseball play?
I think it has to be my only one, don't you? After Tom Stoppard wrote The Real Thing he said, "Well, that's the love play." Which is odd, because love is a bigger subject than baseball—well, no, not really. Anyway, I think this is my baseball play.
Is this a "gay play"?
I don't want to make any of those disingenuous remarks like "What is a gay play?" Aren't all my plays "gay plays," in a way? Actually (and this is not enlightened as much as it is … blind): I don't remember if plays I've written have gay characters in them or not. Because you know how our lives are more multifarious than that? I just think of characters in the same way. I guess this one has a gay "angle."
Well, at any rate, the mix of homosexuality and baseball in a play is not old hat.
Funny, though: A publicist recently complained to me that it marginalized the play to call it a "gay play" because then baseball fans won't show up.
Or vice versa. We gay baseball fans are in the minority, Richard. But this play is really more tragic than the tag "gay baseball play" suggests. To me, it's not unlike [John Knowles's novel] A Separate Peace.
Oh, my God! You know, it's hilarious that you said that—nobody has said that. The narrator, that's part of it, sure, as is the crisis of masculinity, of course. But recently when I read the play I heard an echo of that book, and I haven't read it in 20 years, so that's very astute. And also it's a love story. Though I think that the love story in this play is really love for baseball. Because—okay, a confession: I have only been a fan since 1999. What happened was, I became a fan and instantly couldn't focus on anything else. I thought about baseball, and everything else came second. It possessed me. Eventually I could make room for the rest of my life, but only when I could see relationships, work, what have you, through the eyes of the game. Baseball is that large, though—it allows for metaphors, as you know.
It's bizarre that someone's induction to this game should come so late.
Which is why I am such a fanatic. I was so skeptical—I thought people who cared about baseball were ridiculous. I've never been a "fan" of anything, really. I was never one of those "Oh, Liza" people. So the experience of fan-dom was a new one, along with baseball. I went out and bought histories, and that Ken Burns documentary sits on my TV like a shrine, an altar. I'd read anything.
Now I feel like I'm spending a lot of time cramming. The history of this game isn't embedded. I'll read anyone—I enjoy George Will, for example, when he's writing about baseball, not politics. (I've gotten over that idea that someone has to be morally vetted before you can use or enjoy them.) It's why I can forgive [Yankees pitcher] David Wells if he made homophobic comments—he's just not evolved yet, is the way I prefer to think about it.
And, of course, he pitched a perfect game for the Yankees.
Well, that too.
But I prefer the sentiment of his teammate Mike Mussina, who, when asked how he would feel if he found out he was playing with a gay man, replied: "I assume I already have."
Good for him, yes. See, as I say, I'm a new fan, so I didn't know all that.
So in a way, the character Mason [a gay character who becomes an instant baseball fan in Take Me Out ] is standing in for you.
Yes, the way he just fell in love with it right away is true of me. And now if there is a Yankee game I can possibly see, it's mandatory. I am watching it. That first season, when it ended so abruptly for me, I couldn't take it. I couldn't bear that feeling of loss—I would scan the upper reaches of cable TV, and discover Dominican winter baseball.
Well, there's always ESPN Sports Classics [a channel that broadcasts old sporting events].
Yes, but some of those years, in the '70s, when everyone had to be a hippie, and uniforms were fuchsia and orange—I can't take that.
But in a way, what's true for Mason in Take Me Out is true for all of us, even those of us who loved the game from childhood. Nostalgia is part of baseball, I think.
That sort of Wordsworthian experience of baseball being unconsciously lodged in us—it certainly happened to me. And that's what I uncovered writing this play. It was almost an enormous relief coming to baseball so late in my life—it conjured up these memories I didn't even know I had, but of course I did. It's like that closing sentence in Jim Bouton's Ball Four: "You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."
Well, it seems that there are other characters in Take Me Out loosely based on real-life players.
(Sarcastically) Oh, gee, ya' think so? Who could you be thinking of?
Darren—the half-black, half-white beloved star who admits his homosexuality—is a bit like Derek Jeter.
(Mock surprise) No!
And Shane Mungit, the bigoted relief pitcher, has a hint of John Rocker.
Wow! I never thought of that.
Okay, I'll stop. But it occurs to me that playwrights should make more of these eccentric characters in baseball. Especially the psycho/superstitious pitchers.
Oh, absolutely. Actually, when Rocker gave that bigoted interview to Sports Illustrated, I was really happy, because it suited my play quite nicely. And [Mets reliever] Turk Wendell, with that demeanor on the mound. But there was something appealing in him—just the courage to wear that necklace.
[Red Sox pitcher from the 1970s] Bill "Spaceman" Lee …
Oh, yeah, he was witty. Though he was the one guy in baseball that [Yankee coach] Don Zimmer said he wouldn't let in his living room. He hated him. That's all in Zimmer's affable but not-quite-compelling memoir.
You actually read that?
Of course! You don't see Zimmer very much this season. I wonder if it's age that is making him less appealing or if [Yankees owner] Steinbrenner is just punishing him for those hemorrhoid commercials!
Actually, speaking of the crisis of masculinity and baseball: You have to admire [Texas Ranger] Rafael Palmeiro doing those Viagra commercials.
Really? Do you? I guess. I admire Derek Jeter for doing those peanut butter commercials, actually. You know, let 'em have their endorsements. I don't care.
I'm amazed that you watch so much baseball and write so much. This year we'll also see The Violet Hour (opening Nov. 3 at California's South Coast Repertory), and last year we had both Everett Beekin and The Dazzle.
Think of it this way: What else do I do? I don't have a family to be responsible to, or have to support anyone beyond myself. And everything that has happened in the last couple of years represents work that goes back six or seven years. So we're talking an average of a play a year, and I don't think that is extraordinary output if that is actually your job. I'm steady more than prolific. Look at Philip Roth. He's writing novels, thick novels, and they are masterpieces. I find that astonishing. He's turned his entire life into writing. I admire that. I do try to do that— turn my life's moments, all of them, into writing.
What is The Violet Hour about?
It's about a young man who's starting an independent publishing firm, and he has to choose between publishing the first novel of a classmate and the memoir of a blues/jazz singer with whom he is actually having a clandestine affair. And a machine of indeterminate function and origin comes into the office and starts picking and changing everything.
And you used some baseball consultant on Take Me Out ?
Well, we have a baseball-ographer (she doesn't want to be called a choreographer). She's coaching movement.
Okay, Richard, this piece is coming out in October. Any World Series predictions?
Uh, well … I'm Jewish. So, therefore, superstitious. I guess I can go ahead and name the National League winner because I don't care: the Diamondbacks. Again.
I'll pick the Braves in the NL because in addition to the Bosox, I'm a Mets fan, and, so, a pessimistic fatalist.
You're probably right. Poor Mets, especially last year after the Subway Series. I can't get over these teams who have great seasons and then fall precipitately, one season later. It's a tragedy; I love it.
Speaking of the Mets, this was the year that Mike Piazza had to "come out" and say, "Sorry, I'm not gay." So who do you think is the gay Met?
Oh, that's easy. I actually have a relative who runs with the sportswriters, and he has told me who it is.
Well, off the record …
Source: Steven Drukman, "Greenberg's Got Game: A Master Playwright Swings for the Fences with a Socially Conscious Baseball Play," in American Theatre, October 2002, pp. 24-28.
In the following essay, Lahr explains that Greenberg unites baseball with "gay politics." He also adds that the play "suggests" there are "unknown" consequences, good and bad, in coming out.
If there's anything that confounds the British more than American optimism, it's baseball, which brings together on one bright pastoral greensward those twin nineteenth-century American deliriums: industrialization and individualism. Baseball turns into fun the oppressions of industry—management, productivity, accounting, specialization, even stealing—and yet the pageant of winners and losers in this proto-corporate world also allows for goodness to be measured, made immutable, and, thanks to the eternal vigilance of statistics, kept alive. Page 261 | Top of Article Baseball is a game—some would say a ritual—of hope. Part of that hope lies in the clarity of the sport—a kind of mathematical absoluteness that spills over into moral absoluteness, and explains why the fantasy of all-American wholesomeness goes with the game like sauerkraut with hot dogs.
These thoughts came to mind two weeks ago as I listened to pundits on the BBC's Newsnight Review try to shout one another down over the American playwright Richard Greenberg's exhilarating Take Me Out, which premièred at London's Donmar Warehouse, co-produced by New York's Public Theatre (where it will appear in September). I hope that Greenberg, who spun his tall tale well, and his American director, Joe Mantello, who has mounted it with crisp, good-humored flair, didn't hear the dismissive showboating claptrap that the critic Germaine Greer was peddling as expertise. Among Greer's assertions were the claims that numbers don't matter in baseball; that no player would be called up from the minors to help a defending team win a championship; and that Mr. Greenberg was misguided in depicting the team's catcher—who is, after all, the anchor of the game—as a malaprop-prone ignoramus with as much brainpower as a radish. Paging Yogi Berra.
The play's mischievous title—at once a paean and a plea—hints at Greenberg's equally mischievous ambition: to marry "the old ballgame" with what you could call "the new ballgame": gay politics. Take Me Out is about a baseball colossus, a young African-American built to mythic size by both his extraordinary exploits on the field and his extraordinarily cheerful interracial upbringing: "Even in baseball—one of the few realms of American life in which people of color are routinely adulated by people of pallor—he was something special: a black man who had obviously never suffered," the white shortstop, Kippy Sunderstrom (the appealing Neal Huff), explains. The player in question, the aptly named Darren Lemming (Daniel Sunjata), is a center fielder for the champion New York Empires. Lemmings, we know, are small rodents famous for their sometimes suicidal habits of migration; Darren's particular way of going south is to announce to the press one day—for no good reason other than that it suits his sense of invulnerability to do so— that he's gay. The news creates an almost seismic disturbance. "This seems to be a bigger event in your life than it is in mine," Lemming says to Kippy, his liberal Stanford-educated best friend.
As Greenberg has wisely conceived Lemming, he is far from sexually rampant; he exists within the brilliant corona of his own glamour, which requires distance from others and encases him in a kind of asexual solitude. His coming-out is only an incidental act of bravery, which neither defines him nor exorcises a hidden political agenda. "I don't have a secret," he says. "I am a secret." Superbly played by the handsome and self-contained Sunjata—so easy in his muscular body, so nonchalant in his sense of entitlement—Darren is turned on only by his own prowess. He is the apple of his eye, and he just about admits it. "If I'm gonna have sex—and I am, because I'm young and rich and famous and talented and handsome, so it's a law—I'd rather do it with a guy," he says. "But when all is said and done, Kippy? I'd rather just play ball."
In a series of tight, tart illustrative scenes, crosscut with ballplaying tableaux vivants and with Kippy delivering expository asides, like the narrator in "Casey at the Bat," Greenberg demonstrates how Lemming's sexual "mess," as Kippy calls it, seeps into his apparently straight teammates, not always to happy effect. A lot of the disturbance takes place in the showers, where the cast members lather their pecs and their penises and turn Scott Pask's clever set into a kind of well-hung homoerotic heaven. "You're not getting me, man," says a vacant teammate, Toddy Koovitz (Dominic Fumusa), apparently annoyed at having to wear a towel over his privates. "Why do I have to go around this room, which is, has been, which is this sancchewy, rackled with self-consciousness about my body?" When Darren responds to Toddy's misspoken sexual paranoia, his sang-froid broadcasts his superiority. "Well, 'cause if you have some hope of reëntering decent society, they make ya," he says. "They insist on it."
On the surface, the team seems to take its star's homosexuality in stride, but the victory hugs, the fanny pats, the shower-room larks are now no longer a carefree macho gambol. "What do we do with our stray homosexual impulses? We tamp them down, we frustrate them," Kippy says, trying in vain to be clubhouse psychologist to this crew of inarticulate and disgruntled players. Then, in a John Rocker moment, the Empires' lanky, monosyllabic, newly called-up closer, Shane Mungitt (the excellent Frederick Weller), emboldened by a string of big wins, finds his tongue in front of reporters. "I don't mind the colored people—the gooks an' the spics an' the coons an' like that," he says as the curtain falls on Act I. "But every night t' have t' take a shower with a faggot! "
In the prevailing politically correct climate, Lemming finds himself suddenly turned from an object of envy to an object of pity. His sense of grandiosity is more offended than his sense of justice. "I liked you before—loved you in a manly sort of way," Kippy tells him. "But now you're … more Page 262 | Top of Article human." "Isn't that a demotion?" Lemming replies. Mungitt is suspended, then reinstated after apologizing, and at one point Lemming finds himself alone in the shower room with the pitcher, who, it seems, has "a cleanliness thing." "Cleanliness is next to godliness," Lemming jokes—a great line that is lost on his oafish teammate. Mungitt's failure to engage goads Lemming even further. "All these showers ya take. You just tryin' to scrub away the skin?" he asks. "You tryin' to get through all these layers ‘f tissue an’ organs ‘n’ stuff to get to where the real dirt lies?" Finally, in a moment that plays only partly as a joke, Lemming lunges at Mungitt and mortifies him with a kiss. "Our little secret," Lemming shouts after him. "You dumb cracker f——." "F——" is the word that Mungitt later reportedly mumbles to himself on the mound as he beans—and kills—an African-American star from another team, thereby transferring his murderous feelings for Lemming into the opposing player: an act, if you'll forgive the pun, of projectile identification.
What Greenberg's story suggests is that by coming out you risk letting in the unknown, both good and bad. Lemming's whim leads to his unwitting collusion in a murder, to the cooling of his friendship with Kippy, and to Mungitt's banishment from baseball. Against all these negatives, Greenberg counterposes the blessing of connection—between Lemming and his timid, closeted accountant, Mason Marzac (the scene-stealing Denis O'Hare), who is unexpectedly liberated by Lemming's revelations. Neither man starts out with a community; Lemming feels above everyone, while Marzac, as he admits, feels beneath everyone. In the course of befriending Lemming, Marzac falls in love with baseball, too. To Marzac, the home-run trot—the player rounding the bases and pausing for celebration—becomes profoundly poetic. "That's what we do in our ceremonies, isn't it?" he says. "Honor ourselves as we pass through time?"
At the finale, a Cinderella moment in the empty stadium after the World Series has ended, Lemming turns to Marzac just before he exits. "What a f—— of a season, huh?" he says. Marzac, in his Empires baseball cap and his giant "We're No. 1" foam glove, echoes his friend's sentiment. "It was … tragic," he says, then adds, "What will we do till spring?" Whether on the stage or in the stadium, Greenberg seems to be saying, play mediates tragedy because it kills time and answers woe with wonder. In this realm, as Take Me Out marvellously demonstrates, the spirit can be lost and sometimes found.
Source: John Lahr, "Play at the Plate: Losing It in the Locker Room," in New Yorker, Vol. 78, No. 20, July 22, 2002, pp. 80-81.
Buzinski, Peter, "Majority of Pros Would Welcome Gay Teammate," in OutSports, March 2, 2006, http://www.outsports.com/news/20060302gayteammatesurvey.htm (accessed October 22, 2006).
Gardner, Elysa, "Despite a Few Bad Hops: Take Me Out Looks like a Hit," in USA Today, March 4, 2003, "Life" section, p. 03d.
Greenberg, Richard, Take Me Out, Faber and Faber, 2003.
Hagerty, Bill, Review of Take Me Out, in Hollywood Reporter, Vol. 374, No. 19, July 19, 2002, p. 30.
Kaufman, David, "Playing the Field," in Nation, July 7, 2003, p. 30.
Miller, Stuart, "Take Me Out: A Play Worth Extra Bases," in Sporting News, March 10, 2003, p. 9.
Pearlman, Jeff, "At Full Blast," in Sports Illustrated Online, December 23, 1999, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/features/cover/news/1999/12/22/rocker/ (accessed October 22, 2006).
Anderson, Eric, In the Game: Gay Athletes and the Cult of Masculinity, State University of New York Press, 2005.
Anderson interviewed gay athletes at all levels of team play, from high school sports to professional teams, in order to document the prevailing attitudes toward homosexuality and how it fits with or clashes with the macho culture of competition.
Morgan, William J., "Baseball and the Search for an American Moral Identity," in Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the Batter's Box, edited by Eric Bronson, Open Court Publishing, 2004, pp. 157-68.
In Take Me Out, the character Mason Marzac learns to appreciate baseball from an intellectual standpoint, while other characters, particularly Kippy and Darren, discuss the moral issues surrounding the game. In this essay, Morgan examines what the game has to say about the American character.
Robinson, Jackie, I Never Had It Made, Harper Perennial, 1972.
This autobiography of the first African American in Major League Baseball recalls the struggles and taunts that Robinson had to endure as a trailblazer, foreshadowing the situations that the first openly gay player might face.
Woog, Daniel, Jocks: True Stories of America's Gay Athletes, Alyson Publications, 1998.
Woog, a soccer coach, provides profiles of over two dozen openly gay athletes and coaches, exploring how they deal with the public perception of them. This book is less scholarly, more anecdotal, than Anderson's In the Game.