Second Phase Theater lately mounted Lynn Nottage’s pleasant “Clyde’s” in this place, so with “Take Me Out” as a comply with-up, the company is on a roll. In the aftermath of acquiring the Hayes various a long time ago — and why “Helen” has been erased from the setting up identify, heaven is aware of — Second Phase, which also operates two off-Broadway venues, has significantly beefed up the source of theater for discerning audiences.
“Take Me Out” is a double helix of smart storytelling: the arcs of Williams’s Darren Lemming, the blasé, uber-arrogant anchor of the fictional Empires, and Ferguson’s Mason Marzac, his newly assigned, socially inept organization manager, intertwine as tales of parallel expansion. Mason gains from Darren a profound appreciation of the really serious joys of baseball, and Darren eventually finds in Mason a gay ally who assists him rekindle his jaded spirit.
With a slick, spare set design by David Rockwell, Ellis’s creation manages to evoke the 2002 baseball year, during which “Take Me Out” happens, devoid of missing a 2022 stage. That’s partly owing to the point that even though two decades have passed, culture doesn’t seem to have moved all that satisfactorily with the situations. Florida — seemingly in pursuit of a designation as our countrywide theater of the absurd — has just enacted laws that critics known as the “Don’t say gay” monthly bill, for goodness sakes.
Greenberg’s framework is a tale that has cropped up about the decades in practically every single specialist activity: athletes whose disclosure of their homosexuality or gender transition situations a spectrum of reactions, in and out of the locker space. That sacred “backstage” domain is rendered in “Take Me Out” as a hypermasculine kingdom disrupted by its crown prince: The other Empire gamers are portrayed as perplexed, or even worse, by Darren’s revelation, with the most extreme scenario of revulsion exhibited by the team’s new nearer, Shane Mungitt (a splendid Michael Oberholtzer), an empty-headed backwoods bigot with his individual unhappy historical past.
Greenberg’s erudite dialogue is communicated as a result of the character of Kippy Sunderstrom (Patrick J. Adams) — the Empires’ shortstop and Darren’s closest teammate — as a compassionate account of functions that blow up in everyone’s faces. The locker-space dynamics just after Darren’s community announcement reveal, way too, the diploma to which the other gamers experience that Darren has violated their sacred area. That exposure is dramatized most vividly in the shower scenes, when the supposed menace of Darren’s sexuality to his naked teammates is rendered most rawly. (To shield the actors from unauthorized cameras, theatergoers are necessary to stow their telephones in theater-provided pouches.)
Adams would make for an remarkable extraordinary touchstone: As the very well-indicating Kippy, admiring of Darren’s athletic presents and ever-keen for his validating friendship, the actor is a persuasive emblem of the participant who puts decency very first. As Darren, Williams flawlessly embodies the easy bodily grace — and the graceless condescension — of the lavishly compensated participant who’s improved at the match than absolutely everyone else, and under no circumstances allows them forget it. Oberholtzer’s Shane is so convincing as the manifestation of pitiably unschooled prejudice that you might have to stifle your possess ungenerous impulse to see him punished. In very well-outlined supporting turns, Julian Cihi, Brandon J. Dirden and Carl Lundstedt all complete expertly in unforgettable scenes.
The amusingly humane stitching for “Take Me Out” is supplied divinely by Ferguson, whose illumination of a new fan’s cerebral affection for baseball’s classy choreography could not be far better played. With an impish exuberance that serves as an perfect counterbalance for Williams’s worldly exhaustion, Ferguson infuses “Take Me Out” with just the form of life-of-the-celebration power Ellis and Greenberg are immediately after. You can even imagine Ferguson contentedly up in the stands somewhere together the initially base line, eyes aglow, clutching his incredibly hot dog and his pennant.
Take Me Out, by Richard Greenberg. Directed by Scott Ellis. Established, David Rockwell costumes, Linda Cho lighting, Kenneth Posner sound, Bray Inadequate. With Eduardo Ramos, Tyler Lansing Weaks, Ken Marks, Hiram Delgado. About 2 hours 15 minutes. At Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St., New York. 2st.com. 212-541-4516.