Nearly Naked Theatre's current production of Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out, which the company also presented eight years ago, suffers in comparison to that earlier version. Watching it, I strained to forget the dynamic performances of the company's 2006 season-opener (particularly that of Ron May, who raised his own game by turning Greenberg's court jester into a real person), and failed. I was not helped by the fact that, on opening night, the actors in this new production had not yet settled into their characters, and their self-conscious performances in Act One made for a stiff and sometimes unconvincing story.
Even a tremendous cast will have a hard time selling Greenberg's talky, presentational story, which adds up to two hours of preaching punctuated with occasional bursts of cynical humor. In this award-winning play, we meet Darren Lemming, a celebrity baseball player who's just publicly announced his homosexuality. His friend and teammate (and our narrator) Kippy Sunderstrom recalls the resulting backlash, which leads to a murder and, along the way, enough pro-gay soapboxing for a GLAAD demonstration. Greenberg devotes pages of dialogue to reassuring his audience that all is right with the world: In his play, pigheaded, gay-bashing athletes get murdered or go to prison, while tolerant guys like Kippy are scholarly heroes who live happily ever after.
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Thanks to precise and thoughtful direction from artistic director Damon Dering, Take Me Out isn't a total bust, although it lacks the smart casting one has come to expect from this talented director. To be fair, the play's presentational style, its preachiness, and hero Kippy's scene-hogging narration turns the other characters into shorthanded stereotypes. A seasoned cast might make something more of the uneducated hillbilly hoodlum; the dim, goofball jock; the Ivy League liberal. This is not that cast. A pair of exceptions — David Weiss' subtly wisened pro-ball coach and Eric Boudreau's hyper homosexual manager — are both so excellent, they appear to belong to another production.
Nearly Naked's Take Me Out Fails to Hit a Home Run
Take Me Out continues through January 26 at Phoenix Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Road. Call 602-254-2151 or visit www.nearlynaked.org.
In fact, they are banging around in a play that's become known as "the one with the shower scene," the gimmick for which, despite its better intentions, Take Me Out is best known. I, a fan of both Dering and his stalwart company, hope the promise of a functioning locker-room shower full of fully naked actors will be enough to draw crowds to this play, which fails to deliver a whole lot more.