Actor Rick Foucheux wins the MVP award for his exultant, endearing performance as Mason Marzac, a homosexual accountant and Johnny-come-lately baseball fan, in Richard Greenberg’s heart-shaped tribute to the diamond, “Take Me Out.”
You would think the sight of eight men in star athlete condition appearing completely nude onstage in numerous locker room and shower scenes would be the most talked-about aspect of Studio Theatre’s production, but Mr. Foucheux’s portrayal of an isolated, slightly schlubby guy who falls in love with baseball in middle age is the most memorable aspect.
The character of Mason mirrors Mr. Greenberg’s own midlife crush on America’s favorite pastime, and clearly is written with great affection and humor. Mr. Foucheux mines every appealing inch of the character, going all out (at one point, he even tries to lead the audience in doing “The Wave”) to create a portrait of a smart, physically awkward man plagued by self-doubt whose inner grace is unleashed after becoming fascinated by what he calls the “noble equality” and “divine symmetry” of baseball.
Indeed such high-minded language reveals that Mr. Greenberg conceived “Take Me Out” as a Greek tragedy with cleats. The play follows the seismic ups and downs of the fictional world champion New York Empires, with director Kirk Jackson using all the classic ingredients of baseball — the field, the diamond, the dugout, the locker room — to set the story of a baseball season so fraught with drama it is unusually Sophoclean.
The team’s superstar center fielder, Darren Lemming (M.D. Walton), is at the top of his game, mentally and physically, and out of the blue, Darren admits to the media that he is homosexual.
His statement changes everything. All of a sudden, he is a reluctant homosexual icon, which makes his team members self-conscious and uncomfortable in varying degrees.
The team suffers a slump, so a hot-shot pitcher, Shane Mungitt (Jake Suffian) is brought in from the minor leagues. Chaw-spitting and sporting a mullet, Shane seems like your stereotypical redneck dimwit, but a damaged past reveals someone more dangerous. Stupid, racist, and homophobic is a lethal combination, but add a literally killer pitching arm and you have a man who personifies amoral evil.
It would take someone of Shane’s muddy power to bring down Darren Lemming. As played with electrifying hubris by Mr. Walton, Darren is a supremely self-confident man who wears his physical prowess as lightly as a team jacket. He sees himself on a playing field level with the gods. What bothers him the most about the media attention is that it makes him seem human and flawed. He does not want the world’s compassion, he wants their envy.
Darren’s tragic downfall is played against the backdrop of a winning baseball season, much of which is given a play-by-play by teammate Kippy Sunderstrom (the excellent and affecting Tug Coker), the team’s resident philosopher. Kippy personifies the ultimate athlete; someone uniquely gifted in both intellectual and physical gymnastics. Many of the other teammates are sorely lacking in brainpower, as seen in the comic portrayals of the mentally lumpen Jason Chenier (Matthew Deiss) and Toddy Koovitz (Joel Rueben Ganz).
Other stereotypes are toyed with in the crafty treatment of ethnic characters Takeshi Kawabata (Ikuma Isaac), Martinez (Anthony Gallagher) and Rodriguez (Cesar A. Guadamuz).
For all the turgid events, “Take Me Out” keeps its spirits high with an unabashed love of the game. The descriptions of baseball are sheer poetry, rhapsodic and moving. The character of Mason Marzac has the final say, telling us that drama and upheavals are the stuff of single seasons. “What will we do until spring?” Mason asks, and his sense of abandonment is palpable. What endures is baseball, the sport that lifts us out of lives “so tiny, so daily,” classic Greek drama played out in nine innings instead of three acts.
WHAT: “Take Me Out,” by Richard Greenberg.
WHERE: Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through June 26.
TICKETS: $25 to $48
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS