Darren is forced to contend with the challenges of being a gay person of color within the confines of a classic American institution. As the Empires struggle to rally toward a championship season, the players and their fans begin to question tradition, their loyalties, and the price of victory.
Second Stage Theater - Take Me Out
A CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD GREENBERG
Second Stage: Take Me Out originally premiered in 2002 but feels contemporary as ever. Its themes of sexual and racial prejudice, identity politics, and pursuit of community speak just as powerfully to today’s world as they did initially. How does it feel for you to return to the play at this moment, almost twenty years later?
Richard Greenberg: People have been saying that and when we first started talking about a revival— maybe five years ago— this contemporary quality wasn’t what anyone expected and, frankly, it’s a deeply unpleasant fact. I’d looked forward to seeing in the play how different everything had become, and in a relatively short time. I’m much more interested in the pastness of the past than in its similarity to the present. The idea that everything is just a version of ourselves doesn’t strike me as especially useful. And of course things are different, but not in the ways or direction that I’d anticipated. Marshall McLuhan’s famous insight, that technology is an extension of the nervous system, has asserted itself in an aggravated way. This story today would exist in the roman forum of immediate public opinion with all its rage and sleazy moral superiority. When the play was first produced, it was understood to take place in the present or very recent past, the early 21st century. Now we’re backdating it to the mid-nineties, which is where it always belonged anyway.
2ST: At the heart of the play is one of the most authentic and enchanting love stories that will turn even the most sports-aversive theater goer into a baseball convert and believer. How did that romance begin for you personally and what was the process of bringing it to life in this play?
RG: I’d always had trouble getting through August. The oppressiveness of the weather made it hard for me to concentrate or feel hope. One night in 1999, I was looking for something to watch on TV and found a Yankees game. I’d paid attention to the World Series in ’96 and ’99 and enjoyed it so I thought why not? I decided to keep at it. It was passive and easy and focused my time in a way that staved off despair. Also, baseball contained a lot of information, which made it like research and I always find research involving. After about a week, I was completely dominated. I have a tendency to be serially mono-topical but this was different. There was some unexpected emotional well being tapped. Growing up, I never paid attention to baseball even though it was everywhere in my house. Somehow it must have seeped in. The thing is, I was pretty well satisfied at the time— I wasn’t searching for something to fill some perceived emptiness— but baseball ended up permeating everything for me. I didn’t write the play because I wanted to write a play about baseball but because writing plays is what I do and baseball was all I could think about. Using it for a play made me feel that I was still a functioning worker and gave me all the excuse I needed to read and watch everything on the subject I could lay my hands on, this total immersion. Even twenty years later, I find this peculiar.
2ST: The action of the play ignites around the coming-out story of a fictional major league baseball player, Darren Lemming. What inspired the narrative and how did you craft Darren’s teammates and shape the characters of the play?
RG: I was pretty besotted but I didn’t want to write a valentine because I don’t think those turn out well.
Then two things happened. John Rocker, a star relief pitcher for the Braves, gave this incendiary interview in which he slagged just about everybody who didn’t share his ethnicity, sexual bent, and regional affiliation. And Billy Bean, a retired major league utility player, came out, saying he felt he wouldn’t have been able to stay an active player unless he’d remained closeted. He also suggested that only a superstar on a Jeter-like scale could have managed it. I thought those two ideas working in opposition would hold in check any tendencies I’d have to gush. Kippy was based on what John Olerud, the Mets first baseman, looked like before I heard John Olerud speak. The other characters just started talking and there they were.
2ST: How has your writing process changed in the years since you wrote Take Me Out? How has it remained the same?
RG: I don’t know that I have anything as disciplined as a process and if I do, I doubt it’s changed much. I actually like writing. This makes people suspicious of you but it’s the case. I like the first part where it’s free and wasteful and associative and sometimes gleefully bad. Then I like when you read back what you’ve written and something that is a thing starts to emerge from it. Then I like the slightly distanced, cerebral part where you’re your own editor and you find ways to make what you’ve spawned communicative. People are sometimes distrustful of craft, but I enjoy the way it makes me feel that I possess a body of knowledge and some technique— that I’m doing a genuine job, like an actuary or a taxidermist.
2ST: What about the play are you most excited to explore in this new production?
RG: Not any one thing. The first production was wonderful. I have an uncharacteristically sunny confidence that this one will be wonderful, too, but very different. It’s that, I guess— to see a minimally-altered script beautifully realized yet unnervingly different.
Photo courtesy of Second Stage on Broadway.