IN AND OUT Broccoli (foreground) and Boghigian.
Ironic, isn't it? To your ordinary man in the street or workplace, masculinity usually isn't an issue. Yet macho scale rankings readily come up in professional sports, where prowess should be enough evidence of testosterone levels.
In 2nd Story Theatre's production of Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out, the issue arises with humor and drama in the butt-slapping ranks of the professional baseball biz.
Initial audience reaction to this risqué and risky play — there's lots and lots of male nudity — was so positive that the run has been extended through February 19.
Good move. The main performances in this all-male cast are the acting equivalents of grand slams, coached with directorial finesse by Ed Shea.
On the fictional major league New York Empires, pitcher Darren Lemming (Ara Boghigian) is a guys' guy. In both senses. He had been getting along well with his teammates as an indispensable game-saver, but for some reason he casually outs himself at a press conference. However, it isn't as thoughtless as it seems, and the reason eventually commands the plot.
Lemming's best friend on the team is Kippy Sunderstrom (Tim White), who serves as occasional narrator, clarifying points or, in his tongue-tied introduction, exemplifying the confusions. He's also sometimes too smart for his own good, over-complicating simple observations.
There are plenty of concerns and considered ideas percolating here, about identity, personal responsibility, social contracts, prejudice, justice, and so forth. Yet somehow, through the magic of skillful theater and convincing writing, we are not overwhelmed. You will leave assured of stimulating conversation in the car on the way home.
Boghigian plays Lemming as a calm, bemused center around which intense or anxious characters swirl. Kevin Broccoli gets the funniest lines of the play as Mason Marzac, the baseball superstar's admiring financial manager and an inhibited gay himself. When he praises what Lemming has done for the gay community and the latter says, "Fuck the gay community," Mason quips, "I would, but they don't want me to." His best moment, though, is a long monologue extolling baseball as a metaphor for life, channeling the playwright's own obsession. It's the only game without a clock, and baseball is a better democracy than America as a whole, etc. Interesting points.
Two other set-piece monologues are crucial to the story and fascinating in their own right. Lemming's closest friend off the team, but on an opposing one, is Davey Battle (Marlon Carey). It's no surprise that he, a devout Christian and dedicated family man, delivers a scathing rant when he thinks that all along he has been hanging around as Lemming's hetero beard. Touchingly heartfelt.
That fulmination comes out of their relationship, but an even more volcanic one emerges from pure, raging, near-homicidal hate. Shane Mungitt (Jeff Church), a new pitcher called up from the Utica farm team, is a drawling Southern cracker so stupid he's not sure where he was born. (OK, he has the excuse of being an orphan.) Provoked by Lemming, he loses it and explodes into a sustained tirade. In decades of attending theater, I don't know if I've ever seen a more thoroughly inhabited performance of self-destructive rage. The hatred pulses off the stage like heat waves.