Take Me Out September 29-October 8, times vary, $28-$33. UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, 702-895-2787.
What would happen if the single greatest baseball player alive announced he was gay? You’d expect some blowback from fans who think “hetero” and “sports” are synonymous terms. But his teammates would naturally have his back, right? These questions have come up in a number of recent outings, from NBA center Jason Collins to NFL defensive end Michael Sam. Long before those real-life events, Richard Greenberg’s Tony-winning play Take Me Out posed these heated questions. Nevada Conservatory Theatre hopes to help answer them in an entertaining and thought-provoking way with its own production of 2002’s Take Me Out, which runs Friday, September 29 through Sunday, October 8.
The work’s timeliness was part of its appeal, naturally. “We picked this play because it shines a light on a moment of crisis,” explains Norma Saldivar, NCT’s executive director. Director Andrew Paul agrees: “Although written in 2002, the play is very relevant in today’s political climate and is also an outstanding choice for UNLV, the second-most-diverse campus in the country.”
Current headlines aside, Take Me Out also offers a look at some universal truths and kicks off a season that includes a variety of plays presenting characters at crossroads in their lives: Naomi Iizuka’s Good Kids, August Wilson’s Fences, an all-female production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson’s Pippin. Saldivar describes these characters as grappling with “those moments of illumination—where we are challenged to face a truth that will inevitably change us.”
For this show, it will depend on Mario Peoples, as baseball star Darren Lemming, to illuminate audiences with his portrayal of his own moment of truth. Peoples, fresh off a four-year stint in Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity, “will be a revelation in the central role,” Paul says. “Not only does he embody our image of a professional athlete, he imbues his scene-work with a real gravitas and depth of feeling.”
In his role as MVP of the fictitious NY Empires, Peoples has to go up against friends and enemies after he comes out, from his business manager Mason Marzac (played by local professional Marcus Weiss) to the racist relief pitcher Shane Mungitt whose arrival sets the drama in motion (played by Darek Riley, an actor based in Sacramento and a recent graduate of the UNLV program).
Paul promises that, in addition to quality acting, audiences can anticipate wonderful scene design by Trevor Dotson, in part a function of meeting the demands of the play itself. “One of the trickier elements involved in producing this play,” Paul says, “is the locker-room setting and need for working showers; Trevor’s malleable set evokes the play’s key locations—the baseball stadium, field, locker room, and clubhouse—and allows the action to move fluidly and cinematically.” This fluidity surely won’t stop the heart-pounding moments that arise not just from interpersonal conflict and the threat of violence but from onstage nudity.
Paul recently overheard theatergoers at Super Summer who said they were wondering about the shower scenes in Take Me Out. After a brief cringe, he admits he’s looking forward to showing audiences more than naked athletes. “Hopefully, the showers won’t be the only thing that has them talking.” With a director and cast as passionate about baseball as they are about theater, that hope is all but a sure bet.