Chicago Theatre Review
Hitting It Out of the Closet
Take Me Out – Eclectic Theatre
In recent years, especially with new laws in place guaranteeing equality for the LGBT community, including the right to marry, celebrities from all walks of life have come out of the closet. This has included several athletes from the world of professional sports, such as Michael Sam and Jason Collins, who have selflessly opened the door for others.
But back in 2002 Richard Greenberg wrote a little play that would become a great big hit, both in the West End and on Broadway, and would go on to win the Tony for Best Play, as well as awards for acting and directing. More than this, the play would generate conversation about the merits of being open sexually. The idea, quite simply was that it wasn’t a big deal and it was really no one else’s business; it was the individual’s skill and talent within his chosen sport that should be important. Of course, even today, a person’s prowess in his work takes a backseat when it’s “discovered” that a he’s gay or lesbian.
Twelve years later, this theatre, which continually proves to be one of Chicago’s most consistently excellent storefront companies, has chosen to open their third season with this timely theatrical piece. Unlike most companies, Eclectic Theatre invites the public to not simply attend a performance, but to “come play along.” By attending the first read-through, the final tech or dress rehearsals, as well as any of the performances of a production, this company encourages the public’s feedback throughout the process. One can only imagine the exciting experience this opportunity provided during the creation of Greenberg’s provocative play.
Set primarily in the locker and shower rooms of a fictional Major League Baseball team, Darren Lemming, an egotistic, mixed-race superstar has decided to come out to his teammates, friends and public. Much like a metaphor for our country’s melting pot society, the team is multi-ethnic, including a whiz kid from Japan. Creating the main conflict is new team member Shane Mungitt, a relief pitcher from North Carolina, who has no idea the effect his bigoted comments have on others. In addition, Darren’s sensitive relationship with his best friend, David, who plays for a rival team, becomes mixed up in events that suddenly take turn tragic. Comedy and drama often play side-by-side in this well-produced, tightly-directed production, guided by area director and actor, David Belew. In a drama that features an abundance of graphic, full-frontal male nudity, every scene in Belew’s production is handled with taste and a certain matter-of-fact quality that reflects the play’s primary attitude toward sexual preferences.
Charlie Rasmann is terrific as Kippy, the play’s narrator and a teammate and good friend to Darren. Eloquent, poised and seamless at jumping in and out of the story with ease, Mr. Rasmann becomes the Everyman who guides audiences through a quagmire of events that become very serious. Handsome Ruben Adorno makes a perfect Darren Lemming. Avoiding the cliches most actors might employ, Mr. Adorno wears his arrogance like his leather jacket, but is able to shed it in moments in sincerity and caring. His relationships with Kippy, David (played with passion and dignity by Raymond Jacquet) and especially with his financial manager and new friend, Mason Marzac, are sincere and significant.
Andrew Pond, one of the company’s founding members and an exceptional actor boasting an impressive resume, brings the most humanity to the production as Mason. A gay, middle-age man who doesn’t really see himself as part of the “community,” Mason’s a closet baseball fan who becomes Lemming’s staunchest friend and supporter. Mason’s frank admission to Darren that knowing a baseball phenom has elevated his own popularity among his gay neighbors, as well as his devotion and sincerity expressed to his friend in the final scene, are among the best moments of this production. Mr. Pond consistently provides this kind of model professionalism in every production.
Other standouts include Jonathan Helvey as a humorous, sometimes clueless catcher, Jason Chenier; Tom Chiola as Skipper, the team’s dauntless manager, who supports his boys, even if sometimes can’t find the right words to convey his feelings; Chris Rozenboom as Shane Mungitt, the good ole boy who has a lot of pent-up anger and can’t understand the need to filter his comments; and Kevin Matthew Reyes who, as Japanese pitcher Takeshi Kawabata, has his own personal issues of isolation and loneliness.
Tackling such themes in this production as gay rights, homophobia, class differences, racial bias and what it means to be masculine, this up-and-coming young theatre company consistently offers well-produced, thought-provoking plays. They also provide the added allure of allowing the public an opportunity to become a part of their creative process. In this bold, challenging drama, that’s as current as today’s headlines, Eclectic Theatre bares its body and soul to sensitively illustrate the oft-tragic results narrow-mindedness inflicts upon society. It’s a production that’s well-worth seeing.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 6-November 2 by Eclectic Theatre Company at Athenaeum Theatre’s Studio 1, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.