The euphoria of discovery that Richard Greenberg radiated through a gay outsider who becomes a passionate baseball fan has not diminished in the two decades since. get me out was first produced. However, other things have changed in director Scott Ellis’s well-tuned and superbly cast Broadway revival for Second Stage. Issues that once seemed too much like the playwright at work now seem urgently tinkered with in a contemporary world where masculine fear and its reverberating effects are held up for scrutiny.
The quasi-religious baseball convert is socially maladroit, decidedly non-athletic money manager Mason Marzac (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), whose love for America’s favorite pastime sprouts almost overnight when he opens the account of superstar midfielder Darren Lemming ( Jesse Williams) handed over. But the plot engine of this thoughtful, erudite, funny and poignant piece — a three-time Tony winner in 2004 — is biracial Darren’s seemingly casual decision to reveal in the middle of a press conference that he’s gay.
The fallout from that announcement surprises Empire’s (a thinly disguised version of the Yankees) teammates and fans, unleashing waves of unease. The ripple effect causes homophobia and racism, class differences, identity struggles and male insecurities, exposing the fissures in the team’s fragile bonhomie in ways that inexorably lead to tragedy. To Greenberg’s credit, it’s not the same hackneyed tragedy that usually flows from such stories.
Darren is a special protagonist, partly because his blackness – white father, black mother – is initially as non-issue as his relaxed masculinity. A “one-man emblem of racial harmony” is how white teammate Kippy Sunderstrom (Patrick J. Adams) describes him. “Even in baseball — one of the few areas of American life where people of color are routinely praised by people of paleness, he was something special,” adds Kippy. “A black man you can imagine had never suffered.” The play’s conflict stems from the fact that for the first time in his enamored adult life, Darren is forced to reckon with the reality that he is a queer of color.
In 2002, when? get me out premiered in London the following year on its way to New York’s Public Theater and from there to Broadway, never a major league baseball player had come out in his career. That’s still the case 20 years later, although a growing number of professional athletes in other sports have broken open the closet door. But the play’s resonance goes beyond the enduring invisibility of gay men in professional baseball; it hits harder in a post-Trump America where homophobes, racists, white supremacists and other bigots have been encouraged to acknowledge their toxic prejudices.
The title, of course, refers to the Tin Pan Alley song that serves as baseball’s unofficial anthem, but also to the coming out of queer. But it also refers here to Mason – or “Mars”, as he is overjoyed to be given the nickname of Darren – who is taken from a life he describes as “little, so daily† Finally, it is heard in the ugly context of a threat – taking out or killing someone.
Greenberg, who has shared the revelation of his own obsession with baseball that began with the record-breaking 1998 season in which the New York Yankees scored 114 wins, is investing a lot of himself in this game. Mars’ arias on the glory of the sport – the cathartic beauty of the home run trot; the celebratory union between the player and the audience at that time; the way baseball improves democracy by admitting loss – spreads in bursts of rapture, played by Ferguson at a dizzying height of revelation.
The actor does not replace the memory of Denis O’Hare’s magical performance in the original production. But he nails every smile and triggers a jolt of nervous energy every time he shows up, a vital disturbance in a long-length play right-in front of the audience. “Of course not really have a community,” Mars says, acknowledging his position as an LGBTQ sideliner. “Or rather, the community doesn’t really want me.” His rise from terminal awkwardness to ecstatic, zero-fucks-given transportation is the endearing heart of the piece.
One of the more subtly intertwined points of get me out is the tendency for miscommunication between men, especially in terms of male identity. “How can things go wrong when two people speak their truth?” asks Davey Battle (Brandon J. Dirden), a religious family man who is Darren’s lifelong best friend and now a player on an opposing major league team.
Self-doubt does not appear in either man’s vocabulary – in Davey’s case because of the foundation of his belief in God, in Darren’s because of his belief in himself as an unassailable deity. Davey has the bombastic air of a preacher even in casual cafe conversation, and when he expresses concern about Darren’s delay in acquiring the prescribed wife and three children necessary for happiness, Darren misinterprets his words as encouragement to get more of it. to reveal oneself. “I want my whole self to be known,” Davey tells him. “You too, Darren. You should too.”
The main observer of it all is Darren’s best friend on the team, Kippy, who feels slightly betrayed by his friend’s lack of warning before dropping the bombshell of his sexuality to the press. Kippy is intelligent and open-minded enough to accept Darren, even congratulating him on seizing his freedom. But he’s also alert enough to notice the slight aloofness of other players from Darren in the clubhouse, illustrated in the play’s much-discussed shower scenes, with their full frontal nudity.
Seeing Darren’s new public sexual identity as a violation of the team’s sanctuary, doltish Toddy Koovitz (Carl Lundstedt) is the first to articulate the abrupt switch from towel-breaking, easy-going banter to self-consciously averted looks. “Now I have to worry about looking up my ass every time I’m naked or clothed or whatever,” Toddy tells him defensively. An equally gloomy catcher, Jason Chenier (Tyler Lansing Weaks), goes to the extreme, telling Darren he’s in awe of “the whole gay thing” and clumsily demonstrating his tolerance with a muddled history of the “Greeks”.
As played by Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) with an assured balance of megawatts of charisma and superiority that slowly fades into disgust, Darren rides these and other eye-roll-inducing responses with sardonic humor. But the friction gets harder to ignore with the arrival of newly hired pitcher Shane Mungitt (Michael Oberholtzer), an Arkansas hillbilly with a bad luck story. Shane is a taciturn presence at the clubhouse, but when his propulsive pitcher’s arm earns him media attention, he spits out a series of racial swear words in a TV interview, saving a homophobic slur for last.
Rather than quell internal turmoil, Shane’s suspension from the team sparks previously unspoken animosity not only against Darren but also between Latino players Martinez (Hiram Delgado) and Rodriguez (Eduardo Ramos) and stoic Japanese recruit Takeshi Kawabata (Julian Cihi). ). Late in the piece, the latter has a wonderful monologue about his way of being an American: “I make my mind a prairie. I think nothing. I’m thinking big flat pieces of nothing. It calms me down.”
Even team manager Skipper (Ken Marks), who claims to have always considered Darren a son both before and after his coming out, suggests where that affection ends and judgment begins when the midfielder protests Mungitt’s eventual recovery. And when a shocking incident unleashes the full poison of all that menacing masculinity and festering rage, Kippy retaliates for Darren’s past betrayal with one of his own, putting his loyalty to the team first.
Working on a stylized set by David Rockwell depicting the stadium, clubhouse and several other venues of elegant economy – graced by Kenneth Posner’s smooth lighting drawing us into the intimate exchanges and in the game – director Ellis skillfully navigates the play’s fluctuating moods.
His extensive background in comedy makes him excellent for the lighter moments, especially the Mars interludes, which are somehow both crazy and profound, even poetic. But Ellis digs into the more sobering developments with equal skill, and his experience with musicals gives him a deft grip on the tricky rhythms of Greenberg’s chatty dialogue. His keen eye for casting helps him to lure incisive performances from a great ensemble without a weak link.
Late last summer, it was reported that Ellis – also a seasoned TV hand, whose work includes episodes of 30 Rock† Modern family and The wonderful Mrs. Maisel – would direct a limited television series adapted by Greenberg from the play, with Williams to star. This tight production shows that in our contemporary climate of division there is still enough innings in the material.
Location: Helen Hayes Theater, New York
Cast: Patrick J. Adams, Julian Chi, Hiram Delgado, Brandon J. Dirden, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Carl Lundstedt, Ken Marks, Michael Oberholtzer, Eduardo Ramos, Tyler Lansing Weaks, Jesse Williams
Director: Scott Ellis
Playwright: Richard Greenberg
Set Designer: David Rockwell
Costume designer: Linda Cho
Lighting designer: Kenneth Posner
Sound designer: Bray Poor
Fight Director: Sordelet, Inc.
Presented by Second Stage