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Nearly Naked Theatre's Take Me Out Has No Balls at Phoenix Theatre

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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.

See also: Zach Braff's All New People Is Dark and Quippy at Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe

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.

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.

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.

Take Me Out runs through Saturday, February 1, at Phoenix Theatre. Tickets ($24 and up) are available via tickets.phoenixtheatre.com or by calling 602-254-2151.

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