Base Speculations

Shane's concentrated anger is so intense that he can, if necessary, kill with a pitch; he's the throwing equivalent of the maniacal cleanup batter in Ring Lardner's creepy baseball story, "My Roomy." Greenberg uses this ability to tie together Take Me Out's scattered strands of plot. Itself slightly magical, a blast from baseball's brutish past, Shane's lethal ability gives the clue to what Greenberg is actually writing—not a drama in which athletes reveal their inner reality to the world, but a baseball fairy tale, in which the masculinist aura of the game is subverted, not just by gay consciousness but by all the spirits of our time. This being 21st-century magic, its effect is grimmish and deprivative, full of the knowledge that always carries a sense of loss.

Logically enough, the best pieces of staging in Mantello's production are the shower scenes—not because they display nude males, but because everyone in them seems, as the script instructs, so awkward and ill at ease. The imaginary threat that comes with Darren's revelation clears away the camaraderie and towel-snapping that always look so phony when rendered by actors on a gritty stage floor, under a lukewarm drizzle. Mantello's version suggests a Paul Cadmus canvas repainted by Eric Fischl, its wild lewdness replaced by troubling ambiguities. To point out one that nobody else seems to have caught: Shane tells Darren that, when he complained on TV about "having to shower with a faggot," he meant "a coupla other guys." Greenberg doesn't tell us who on the team has not copied Darren's openness. I think I can make two tentative guesses from bits of dialogue, but nobody asked, and I don't tell.


Denis O'Hare and James Yaegashi in Take Me Out: a pitcher is worth a thousand words.
photo: Mark Douet
Denis O'Hare and James Yaegashi in Take Me Out: a pitcher is worth a thousand words.

Details

Take Me Out
By Richard Greenberg
Joseph Papp Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
212-239-6200

Three-Cornered Moon
By Gertrude Tonkonogy
Blue Heron Theatre
123 East 24th Street
212-560-7284

The ambiguity of tone that graphs America's troubled consciousness wasn't born yesterday. As a diverting proof, take Gertrude Tonkonogy's Three-Cornered Moon, unearthed by Carl Forsman's Keen Company, which is giving it a neat, adequate showcase revival, a little rackety and a little uncertainly acted, most likely because a script so full of treacherous tonal traps takes more rehearsal time and more "playing in" than an off-off company can afford. I have to recuse myself, awkwardly, from reviewing the two best performances, since Maggie Lacey and Andrew McGinn, who play the young lovers, both appeared in a translation of mine last spring. But I believe I'd think well of them even if they were total strangers—especially of Lacey's brisk, springlike interpretation.

Tonkonogy wrote relatively little; after her 1933 success with this play, she had only one other Broadway production, in 1948. Her distinctive name, apparently Russian or Russian-Jewish, sheds some light on the emotional seesawings of the play's Brooklyn family, which is said to be based on her own. A giddy widow and her spoiled children, discovering that they're broke in the aftermath of the Crash, pull together to beat the economic crisis. Meantime, the daughter's torn between a novelist of epic diffidence and a bright but slightly paternalistic doctor. She ultimately opts for the medical man, as the audience knows she will. The script's unexpected tensile strength comes from Tonkonogy's willingness to give the artist due credit as well; any hack playwright of the time would have "exposed" him as a freeloading phony in the last act. The result may not be Chekhov, but it certainly isn't Neil Simon, and it makes a pleasant gift for these times. Grim as our future looks just now, it's nice to be given hope for the past.

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