“In society the homosexual’s life must be discreetly concealed. As material for drama, that life must be even more intensely concealed. If [a homosexual playwright] is to write of his experience, he must invent a two-sex version of the one-sex experience that he really knows.”
Though many realized that Stanley Kauffmann was writing about Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and William Inge when he brandished those controversial words in the New York Times, he didn’t dare cite the playwrights by name. The year was 1966, and to paraphrase the opening lines of L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, we all did things somewhat differently back then.
Of course, Kauffmann had no idea that a landmark gay drama called The Boys in the Band would open Off Broadway in only two years, and help spark a gay revolution the following summer. And like the theater itself, we’ve come a long way in the intervening decades. The voice that dared not speak its name has been shouting ever since, not least in the theater, where the countless openly gay plays that followed The Boys in the Band have continued to fuel the gay movement, while tracing its trajectory.
Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out, which is currently playing at the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway and has just won the Tony Award, is indeed one of the best gay plays in years. When it opened at the Public Theater last fall, this ambitious new comic drama was an unwieldy work that tried to say too many things simultaneously, without its prolific playwright’s customary grace. In the course of tightening his script for the play’s move to Broadway in February, however, Greenberg has created an intricately woven and multidimensional work that defies glib classification.
By focusing on the aftershocks that occur when a star ballplayer tells the media that he’s gay, Greenberg seamlessly ties together matters of sex, race, multiculturalism, politics, political correctness and celebrity in Take Me Out. The title alone is a “triple” play-on-words that refers to the refrain from the familiar baseball song, to coming out of the closet and to a climactic beanball murder. The phrase is also used in the play when someone says that baseball, at its best, “takes you out” of yourself.
The star player is Darren Lemming, a member of the Empires, the defending world champions. (From their uniforms to the stadium’s distinctive Gothic top deck, the Empires unmistakably evoke the Yankees.) The team includes a couple of Latinos who keep to themselves, as well as a Japanese pitcher who doesn’t speak English. Another teammate, Kippy, serves as an omniscient narrator, delivering Greenberg’s liquid exposition.
In an opening prologue, Kippy introduces us to Darren, a “one-man emblem of racial harmony…a black man who had obviously never suffered.” When someone sarcastically asks Darren who made him God, he replies–without a trace of irony–“God made me God.” Given his galloping egotism, his “aura of invincibility,” Darren thinks nothing of casually admitting that he’s gay during a news conference, apparently heedless of any repercussions.