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In ‘Take Me Out’ White Agency and Ableism Have a Ball

A review of Take Me Out by Juan Michael Porter II | April 4, 2022

Imagine a world where a superstar baseball player on par with Derek Jeter decides to disclose that he is gay. In 2003, Richard Greenberg did precisely that with Take Me Out and received the Tony Award for Best Play for his regressive efforts. Almost two decades later, his ableist and gay-caricature-laden affair has returned to Broadway, complete with its dated humor and obsession with the white gaze.

Like the original production, this Second Stage-produced revival follows Darren Leeming (Jesse Williams) a mixed-race center fielder who throws his winning baseball team off its game after casually disclosing he is gay without any warning. To bring the team back to order, Shane Mungitt (a terrific Michael Oberholtzer) is recruited as a relief pitcher.

All goes well until Mungitt refers to his diverse teammates with derogatory slurs during a press conference. This includes labeling Leeming a n*gger and f*ggot. Mungitt is suspended but brought back on after he pens an apology letter that reveals his tragic past as an orphan.

On Mungitt’s first day back, he is frazzled after Leeming assaults and humiliates him in the team’s shower room. During his first pitch, Mungitt ends up killing Davey Battle (Brandon Dirden, serving Bo Jackson level swag), a star player on the opposing team who was also Leeming’s best friend.

Questions regarding whether he purposefully killed Battle arise, after Mungitt declares that he overheard Leeming telling Battle to drop dead―which he states he took as an order from his team captain. Mungitt is permanently banned from playing professional baseball, the only thing that gives his life meaning, while his former team goes on to win the season.

Take Me Out is less offensive for Greenberg’s TV movie-of-the-week plot than his refusal to grant Leeming or Mungitt agency. Everything they do revolves around fulfilling the plot’s contrivances or making others feel better about themselves.

Leeming’s sole personality trait is that he is considered godlike to white men. Rather than allow him to explore developing a queer identity, Greenberg paints Leeming as a whiny brat accustomed to getting his way and supplants him with his own avatar: Mason Marzac (a delightful Jesse Tyler Ferguson), Leeming’s gay business manager who feels isolated from the fabulous gay community because he is not considered conventionally attractive. After meeting the newly out Leeming, Marzac falls in love with and finds himself through the game.

As a gay ambassador, and possibility model (representative of people who are unaccustomed to seeing themselves in media), the role’s decidedly white, middle-classed perspective left me wondering why Greenberg didn’t simply write a one-man show for himself and bypass his lemming cipher altogether.

On the flip side, rather than take the opportunity to explore what goes on in Mungitt’s mind―a man who has been written off as stupid because he does not communicate like others―Greenberg unleashes white ableism upon the audience through Kippy Sunderstrom (Patrick J Adams). Sunderstrom doesn’t speak Japanese or Spanish, but he is able to understand and interpret for his non-English speaking teammates. We take it for granted that his interpretations are correct because Greenberg denies them the opportunity to speak beyond their language. This includes Mungitt, who insists that he doesn’t understand anything except for baseball and is denied the chance to communicate on those terms.

When Sunderstrom and Marzac communicate their hopes and desires, they usually do so through direct address―AKA, the favored theatrical device of playwrights who are too lazy to show character development in action. The only other character to use direct address is Takeshi Kawabata (Julian Chi), the team’s Japanese starting pitcher. During a dream sequence, he speaks to the audience in thick accented English, even though we should be able to understand him perfectly because we are in his mind. 

Unfortunately, Greenberg has no interest in understanding anyone except for articulate white men. 

While watching the play’s original production, I figured that it was celebrated because it was one of the few pieces to engage with homosexuality during a particularly homophobic period in time. All these years later, it is astonishing to observe how unsophisticated Tony voters were to applaud this tripe or that by reviving it, Greenberg and his production team still think that they have scored a home run. 

Sex sells, so if you want to see Jesse Williams naked for approximately two minutes, this is the show for you. Additionally, Michael Oberholtzer is exceptional as Mungitt and leaves me yearning to see him as Lennie Smalls in Of Mice and Men.  But if you’re looking for something deeper than Greenberg’s cheap laughs at the sake of gay and atypical people, you’ll have to go elsewhere. My suggestion is Dominique Morriseau’s Confederates, which plays at Signature Theatre through April 24th.

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