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Home run

Let your imagination loose on baseball, and you will come up with images of chewing gum, men strutting about a field, stripey pyjamas, caps, attitude, hand signals, schmaltzy singalong tunes, fat spectators, spitting, cussin’, mits, helmets and hot dogs. Translating something as wholly American as a play about baseball to an Australian stage is a brave move.

Richard Greenberg’s Take me out, with its passion for baseball and what it might reveal about human relationships, stretches an Australian audience. But his play is funny, moving, challenging and ultimately sad.

Take me out is a strong ensemble piece in which each of the actors delivers a fine performance. They seem to have enjoyed the invitation to join an all-male cast, talk about sport and strut about the stage naked. The play moves easily between observations on the human condition and humour. The words speak for themselves and the actors have a sufficiently light touch.

Star baseball player Darren Lemming (Kenneth Ransom) is the iconic sports hero embodying the mixture of rare talent, self-belief, and narcissism required to succeed at an elite level. He is untouchable. Even when he publicly discloses that he is gay, Lemming seems immune from public reaction. Not, however, from the reaction of his team-mates.

If Lemming is cast as the hero, then the deliciously named Shane Mungitt (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) is the anti-hero. Mungitt’s story is the mirror-image of Lemming’s. Where Lemming has superstar cool and abundant talent, Mungitt ranges only from awkward to ugly. He embodies political incorrectness. Only the ability to pitch—which has brought him to the big league—saves him. But such talent in the hands of one so socially inept is certain to bring about disaster. Jeremy Lindsay Taylor’s performance is a stand-out. Shane Mungitt revolts, amuses and always holds the audience.

Take me out explores notions of human identity. It constrasts the constructs we build of our selves and others with the truth of human identity, and shows how truth can disrupt even the closest relationships.

Greenberg, does not offer simple solutions. Although Lemming suffers the idiotic responses of his team-mates to his admission that he is gay, he is not simply a victim of prejudice. He is also capable of cruel and manipulative behaviour towards the vulnerable Mungitt.

The resolution of the play is found in the character of Mason Marzac (Simon Burke), charged with the task of selling some of Greenberg’s tougher ideas (that baseball is better than democracy). He alone reconciles his inner and outer self. Marzac is only too aware of his shortcomings—they have long been his closest companions.

Greenberg’s play recalls recent Australian sporting events, from the social disgraces (if not criminal actions) of footballers, to the ugly display by our women rowers at the Olympics. He reminds us that we often use sport to understand our social values and human relationships. We expect our politicians to fail, but when a sporting hero caught out we indulge in collective soul-searching. The hero’s failings are those of the community.

Take me out deftly analyses relationships, race, sexuality, identity and our capacity to hold together the tension between belief and reality. Greenberg can be forgiven for occasionally over-reaching—he is at heart an enthusiast and an optimist. Surely there is room for both in our lives.

Marcelle Mogg is the editor of Eureka Street.



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