Last night we had an evening on 14th Street, in Jeff’s old neighborhood. After dinner at Hamburger Mary’s and dessert at Caribou Coffee, we saw a One in Ten benefit performance of the excellent Take Me Out at The Studio Theatre. We had talked about going, but then I’d gotten it confused with another gay-themed show currently playing in the area, and had procrastinated about getting tickets, not realizing that it was a benefit and likely would sell out. On Monday, though, Jeff got us on a waiting list, and yesterday afternoon he got word that some tickets had come available after all.
The show–which won the 2003 Tony Award for “Best Play”–was riveting. A caution: It’s not for everyone. Many members of my family, for example, would find the strong language and the frequent and prolonged male nudity troublesome at best. Most readers of this blog, though, would not; and many might even find the latter, at least, an additional reason to appreciate the play. Moreover, both the language and nudity, though quite prominent, were integral to this story–the group showers in the locker room provide some critical insights for several of the major characters, and for the audience in our understanding of the impact of nakedness–emotional as well as physical–on these men specifically and, by extension, men more generally.
Most local press wrote glowing reviews (Washington Post, Washingtonian, Washington Blade, even the normally gay-unfriendly Washington Times) for this production, and my only disagreement with any of them might be with their strong praise for M.D. Walton, the actor playing the main protagonist, Darren Lemming, the bi-racial baseball player who comes out of the closet in the play’s first five minutes. Though I know that smugness is part of the character’s personality, Walton came across to me as just a bit too self-pleased, making it difficult at times for me to see past him to the character he was playing; he seemed to crack himself up in ways that simply broke the illusion for me that he was anything other than an actor playing a role.
The actors in the other three central parts, though, were incredible, in fact, nearly perfect. Rick Foucheux gave perhaps the best and most believable performance I’ve seen all year, as the nebbish gay financial manager, discovering in baseball, through his association with Darren, a truly life-changing philosophy and passion. I don’t know if straight audiences feel the same connection to Mason Marzac, but last night there was definitely a strong empathy from the particular crowd in attendance. And the first-act monologue on how baseball is democracy taken to its purest and truest ideal–better even than our practice of political democracy–provides one of the most incredible pieces of writing and acting I’ve encountered. And it made me want to learn more about baseball, to feel some of that same strange blend of passion, mystery and, yes, innocence.
Jake Suffian, playing the ignorant, bigoted, yet in some ways eerily childlike and trusting relief pitcher Shane Mungitt, is spot-on in the role. With his mullet and deer-in-the-headlights blank stare–so at odds with the stunningly handsome headshot in the playbill–he presented a frighteningly convincing portrait of the troubled–and trouble-causing–hillbilly, the catalyst at the heart of the play’s darkest moments and of the discovery of its hidden, disturbing truths.
Finally but not least, Tug Coker was incredibly sympathetic and believable–as well as breathtakingly gorgeous–as Darren’s best friend on the team, the unusually cerebral and paternal Kippy Sunderstrom, the show’s well-intentioned–with all the pitfalls good intentions guarantee–heart and mind to Darren’s ego, Shane’s id and Mason’s soul.