Take Me Out (テイク・ミー・アウト)

テイクミーアウト(Take Me Out)

12/14/16 (Wed), Tokyo

A Japanese-language production of Richard Greenberg’s 2002 drama about a baseball player who comes out as gay and the consequences of that action. I still think the premise of the play is weak from the start: the player comes out to the media before telling his teammates, implying a lack of trust or interest in them, so it’s no wonder that they’re miffed. The player can’t be that much of an idiot. It’s a generally unfocused play in any case, so any production begins with a problem. In addition, audiences here, mostly young and female, are unlikely to be aware of the social context behind the sexual references, cultural elements (Hispanics feature, but there’s no easy way to show a racial mix) and such. Even the title makes little sense to them since they don’t know the source song; it was played during the show but not identified or translated. I suggested to one of the producers that it could be called “Out”, an English word used here both in baseball and for gays, but I guess that didn’t get through. (Now that I think about it, “Out/Safe” might be interesting as well.) One point that interested me was the Japanese player who featured in the original New York production, speaking largely in Japanese. I was wondering how they were going to handle that in the version here, where everyone is speaking Japanese.

The set was surrounded on two sides by the audience. The cast shifted pods around in various configurations for different scenes. It opened with the gay star Darren taking his shirt off in a blatantly sexy manner and then doing batting practice shirtless, which makes no sense and dilutes the effect of the naked shower scenes later. (He was the sole shirtless figure on the poster, which also seemed a mistake: they could have sold a few more seats with more naked bodies on the ads.)

The Japanese character remained Japanese, distinguished only by a different Japanese accent than the rest of the cast. The presence in the NY production of a sole Asian who didn’t speak English gave a good sense of the character’s isolation, which didn’t come through here at all. Surely they could have changed this to, say, a Vietnamese player, whose country also had troubles with America in its past.

Mason, played in NY in a vaguely fey manner, was more flamboyant here in the way gays are generally presented in Japan. But maybe that’s just overacting, which characterized most of the cast. The team member who initially approaches Darren after his declaration of gayness was particularly guilty among the rest. The one time it really worked was Shane’s breakdown in his talk with Kippy and Darren, which was fierce, fearless and totally convincing. I can’t believe he does this twice a day.

Numerous screens placed around the theater, which mainly showed profiles of the baseball players, also featured occasional news footage of the Syrian civil war as well as a sound bite from Trump, which places the story squarely in 2016. Not a good idea, as no one would flinch at a sportsman coming out these days. Certainly Shane would never be allowed back on the team after his gay bashing on air given the much heightened sensitivity of the gay brigade and the other strident PC guardsmen nowadays. The show should stay in the 1990s where it belongs. (It was first produced in London in 2002, but it feels more 20th century.)

The shower scenes were performed with towels wrapped around the actors’ waists, which is not quite realistic but less distracting than full nudity (generally a no-no on the Japanese stage, though I’ve seen it on several occasions). While nudity is fully justified in the script, I thought it was handled well here.

The Japanese version implied that Darren was coming on to Mason at the end, which is one interpretation. My memory is fuzzy, but I had recalled Darren just being friendly, treating the reporter more like an eager fan than a potential lover. Will have to think about that one.

The acting, as noted, was over the top for most characters. Darren was nicely macho, the best overall performance, and Kippy was restrained and fine. Shane had a strange take on the dull Arkansas player, but his breakdown was the show’s most impressive moment. I could have done without the dances that the players would suddenly perform to “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” and other numbers. It was silly and added nothing to the story.

The play throws numerous ideas in the air in the presumed hope that one or two land, but it’s too diffuse to make much sense. The production didn’t help: if the director could ramp down the overacting for a more naturalistic presentation, he could improve things immeasurably. Still, it’s entertaining enough as melodrama if we ignore the presumed “messages”, and all those naked (here, half-naked) bodies were probably enough for the women, who made up 90% of the audience. I imagine they went home happy.

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