Seen Off Broadway:
Talk about timeliness! In a season in which rumors have flown about the sexuality of Mike Piazza and a players' strike was narrowly averted, on the very Sunday that The New York Times Magazine published an in-depth study of Barry Bonds' disaffection with major league baseball, I saw Richard Greenberg's new play, Take Me Out, at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre. Take Me Out begins with a top outfielder (he plays for the "New York Empires") outing himself at a press conference. Three acts later, another player is dead. The chain that links these two events is anything but expected, however, as Greenberg deftly avoids every cliché, revealing how his protagonist, Darren Lemming, forever alters the lives of everyone around him. Lemming is not your typical gay hero; for one, he's not that interested in sex and has no affinity for the gay community; he's motivated more by arrogance than anything else. Then again, Greenberg isn't interested in political advocacy; he's a specialist in ideas, and in probing his characters' extremely mixed motivations. He's also, clearly, a baseball nut. Take Me Out is an ironic comedy (at times bitterly so) about sexual politics that, amazingly, is also a love letter to America's beleaguered pastime.
The cast is very strong, including Daniel Sunjata as the charismatic and aloof Lemming; Neal Huff as the Empires' resident intellectual, who has a few secrets of his own; Kevin Carroll as Lemming's straight-arrow best friend; and Frederick Weller, who is virtually unrecognizable as a John Rocker-like redneck. Master thief Denis O'Hare, as Lemming's manager and neophyte baseball fan, deftly pockets scenes the way Ty Cobb used to steal bases. Aside from eliciting finely shaded performances from all of the above and keeping this longish play moving at a smart pace, Joe Mantello's direction also creates some tense major league game action onstage.
Photos: Mark Douet
Scott Pask's compact, clever unit set builds lockers, a scoreboard, a practical shower, and stadium architecture into a rather small space; it's a very distinctive piece of work that helps facilitate the action of the play. Kevin Adams' lighting is filled with typically smart touches, including a range of fluorescent units built into the lockers (these are very useful during scene changes), a mini-wall of light bulbs just behind home base, and two large-scale stadium lighting units. Janet Kalas' sound design deftly blends stadium sounds, organ music, rock tunes, and the sound of balls on bats; her work is closely coordinated with Adams' lighting cues. Jess Goldstein has become the go-to person for all-male plays where the characters don't wear many clothes (remember Love! Valour! Compassion!?), but on those occasions when the characters are dressed, their outfits are certainly up-to-the-minute; Goldstein's uniforms are also well-observed.
I expect that Take Me Out will come in for some criticism, given its iconoclastic hero and its leisurely plotting--this is the first new three-act play in years. Greenberg's characters are among the most talkative onstage today and, at times, the level of discourse in the locker room is disconcertingly high. On the other hand, his less-bright characters sometimes come off as borderline cretins--one or two scenes involving dim bulbs on the team fall pretty flat. Nevertheless, I will be very surprised if, this season, we see very many plays as richly plotted, as subtle, and as thoughtful as Take Me Out. -- David Barbour
Heard in London: How loud can you go? That may be one of the questions you would ask sound desiger Bobby Aitken, who has really pumped up the volume for the London musical We Will Rock You. Of course, with a score made up of Queen's greatest hits, it's no wonder! The sound and communications system has been supplied by Autograph Sound Recording (where Aitken worked for more than 15 years before becoming an independent sound designer just over two years ago). Autograph, a L'Acoustics partner, supplied V-dosc and dV-dosc loudspeaker arrays rigged either side of the proscenium, along with a central cluster of dV-doscs. D&B E3s are installed around the auditorium for delay, surround, and front fill use. The loudspeakers are powered by Lab Gruppen and D&B amps with XTA controllers and the latest XTA Sidd DSP processor. The new Telex duplex wireless communications system (the largest Telex wireless system ever to be employed in UK theatre) is being used in conjunction with a Clear-Com communications system. The sound effects system is primarily driven by Akai S6000 samplers. A Cadac J Type mixing console is used, along with 32 channels of Sennheiser radio microphones, which are being complemented by the Autograph-designed and -built remote monitoring system. The latest miniature microphone from DPA, known as the DPA-4066, has also been chosen here for the first time on a West End show. So Aitken certainly has the tools it takes to keep that volume pumping! P.S. The audience loves every decibel of it. -- Ellen Lampert-Gréaux