Paradoxically, given that his life revolves around a whizzing ball, this sportsman uses stillness to advantage. As portrayed by actor Jaysen Wright, in 1st Stage’s otherwise uneven production of Richard Greenberg’s “Take Me Out,” the gay baseball star named Darren Lemming is economical with movement when off the diamond. Whether he’s holding a news conference or parrying tension-fraught raillery in the clubhouse or gazing at an adversary with a mixture of tamped-down sadness and anger, Wright’s Darren anchors his surroundings with dramatic poise. This hotshot center fielder doesn’t need to fidget. He has earned his cool, seductive arrogance.
Wright convincingly maintains this less-is-more physicality, and air of attentive listening, even as the story line pitches the character into a sea of conflict and betrayal. Unfortunately, not all the acting in the production is equally persuasive: A couple of the performances are stilted or poorly calibrated. Moreover, as directed by Doug Wilder, the scenes don’t always interlock as crisply as they should, sapping some of the play’s vigor.
Still, the production is lively, frequently funny and occasionally affecting, and it bends a clear-enough lens on Greenberg’s witty, personality-rich exploration of friendship, prejudice, group dynamics and the metaphorical potential of baseball. (All the actors handle the abundant locker-room nudity with aplomb, by the way.)
Designer Ruthmarie Tenorio supplies a respectable locker room set, complete with the requisite working showers. This is the headquarters for the New York Empires, a champion team that garners additional public attention when its famous center fielder, Darren, publicly acknowledges his sexuality. After the team hires the uncannily talented but bigoted pitcher Shane Mungitt (Ryan Kincaid), a major crisis looms.
Subsequent events are relayed to us with commentary by the team’s resident intellectual, Kippy (Sun King Davis), who frequently speaks in direct address from downstage center. Also supplying occasional brainy monologues is Mason Marzac (Adam Downs), a geeky financial adviser who falls rhapsodically in love with baseball after being assigned to manage Darren’s wealth. Greenberg fills Kippy’s and Mason’s monologues with delectably clever literary riffs — such as the elaborate analogy Mason draws between baseball and democracy — but in this production, for reasons related to timing and lighting, the transitions to and from the solo scenes lack snap.
A more serious problem is Downs’s unduly broad, comic interpretation of Mason: It sometimes feels as if this game-besotted numbers-cruncher belongs in a different play from the other characters. Because of the lack of nuanced characterization, and the excitedly squeaking vocal patterns Downs employs, Mason’s appearances can be grating. In another flawed performance, actor Devyn Tinker’s depiction of Darren’s friend Davey comes across as stilted.
On a more positive note, Kincaid’s Shane is splendidly coarse; William Aitken imbues the Skipper, the Empires’ manager, with brooding toughness; and Tim Torre is aptly funny as the team’s awkward catcher, Jason.
The production arrives on the heels of real-life news stories about misbehaving sports figures, as well as stories about gay sports personalities coming out of the closet. But, while such topicality might add resonance to a production of a different ballgame-themed play, “Take Me Out” is really about human nature, not the sports business. When Kippy traces the Empires’ problems back to the Garden of Eden, he is not being as flippant as he lets on.
Wren is a freelance writer.
By Richard Greenberg. Directed by Doug Wilder; lighting design, Jane Chan; sound, Neil McFadden; props, Deb Crerie and Kay Rzasa; technical director, Aaron Fensterheim. With Jacob Yeh and others. About 21 / 2 hours. Tickets: $15-28. Through Oct. 12 at 1st Stage in Tysons, 1524 Spring Hill Rd., Tysons Corner, Va. www.1ststagetysons.org or 703-854-1856.