By George Basler
The prize-winning play Take Me Out, now being presented by the Ti-Ahwaga Community Players, is a baseball story with a twist, focuseing on what happens when a mixed-race superstar centerfielder comes out publicly as gay.
“What I like is that it’s beautifully written. It’s also about some hard things we as a country have been through — racism, homophobia and trauma — book-ended with a love story to baseball,” said Brian Flynn, who directed the play, which opened last Saturday (April 15) and continues this weekend (April 21-23) at the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center in Owego.
American playwright Richard Greenberg wrote Take Me Out after becoming a baseball fan in the late 1990s when the New York Yankees put together a string of championship seasons. The play won the 2003 Tony Award for Best New Play. Two decades later, the Broadway return won the Tony or Best Revival of a Play.
Flynn saw both productions and was emotionally moved both times. “It’s very real. There are comedic moments in the midst of a lot of dramatically intense conversations,” he said.
While it’s no longer unheard of for celebrities to come out as gay, Take Me Out is still relevant in dealing with issues such as racism, homophobia and class, Flynn said, adding, “It’s sad to say I don’t think that’s changed at all.”
Much of Take Me Out is set in the locker room of the fictional New York Empires. (While the name is fictional, the players wear pinstripe uniforms similar to the New York Yankees.) On the spur of the moment, star centerfielder Darren Lemming tells a group of sportswriters that he’s gay. He thinks his superstar status will shield him from any negative fallout.
Things sour when Shane Mungitt, a hotshot pitcher from the Ozarks, joins the team and spews racist and homophobic comments. Lemming must suddenly face the challenges of being a gay person of color. The tension between Mungitt and Lemming affects the entire team and leads to a tragic moment.
The 10-member Ti-Ahwaga cast features both actors who have appeared at the Owego playhouse before and newcomers. The central role of Lemming is being played by Jason Walsh, who has done shows at Ti-Ahwaga, KNOW Theatre in Binghamton and the Endicott Performing Arts Center.
Walsh said he was attracted to Take Me Out because the Lemming character “goes through a journey and ends up in a totally different spot from where he starts.”
Some of the scenes are very intense, and “that’s what you want as an actor,” Walsh added. He thinks some language in the play will make audience members “squirm in their seats.”
Flynn agreed some of the language is hard to hear. But to pretend it doesn’t exist does a disservice, he said.
The locker room scenes include some partial nudity. This is essential to the play and staged in a way that is not gratuitous, Flynn said. Walsh joked he’s not nervous because “I have a pretty nice butt.” (Ti-Ahwaga recommends that, due to the play’s content, anyone audience member under the age of 17 should be accompanied by a parent or guardian.)
Flynn said he hopes audience members will be emotionally moved, and even laugh on occasion, while taking away an understanding of the complexity of America’s history as a country. The issues in Take Me Out are being discussed across the country, even if they are being done quietly, and they should not be avoided, he said.
Take Me Out is the 17th production Flynn has directed for the Ti-Ahwaga Community Players. “It’s probably the show I’m proudest of,” he said.
IF YOU GO: Take Me Out will continue this weekend (April 21-23) at the Tioga Performing Arts Center, 42 Delphine St., Owego. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets at $25 ($20 forages 65 and older) can be purchased at www.tiahwaga.com or by calling the box office at 607-687-2130.[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]