Once, several years ago, Patrick Jordan told me that what Pittsburgh theater lacked was plays with "teeth." Since then, Jordan's company, barebones productions, has staged nothing but sharp-fanged dramas: This Is Our Youth, with its drug-abusing New York hipsters; The Glory of Living and its serial-killing lovers; Frozen, featuring a Cockney child-molester; The Grey Zone, a Holocaust drama in which every principal character is shot and incinerated, including a little girl; and Bug, which closes in an inferno of blood and arson.
And now barebones produces Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out, a baseball play. Compared with the company's usual A-list of killers and psychopaths, the athletes of the (fictional) Empires baseball team are practically cute. There are black guys and white guys, a Japanese guy, a couple of Latino guys, and they play hard and love baseball and make lots of money. And then there's Darren Lemming, who decides to tell the world, at a press conference, that he's gay.
But wait: Take Me Out isn't your ho-hum gay-identity drama, nor is it a standard-issue sports comedy. For starters, Darren is not your typical sports hero: He's mixed-race, super-wealthy, beloved by fans, homosexual by nature and totally, unapologetically arrogant. He's the kind of self-deifying asshole who says "I'm a mystery," and "Nobody really knows me," and gets away with it. Everyone around him is flawed and damaged, and most of them are hiding something insidious. Among the Empires, everybody wins some, everybody loses some.
As Darren, Christian Felix makes the arrogance look effortless. He's smarter, faster, richer and sexier than any of his teammates, and he knows it. Even the nationwide attention and corporate endorsements are expendable to him. Openly gay, free of secrets and shame, Darren is invulnerable -- so Greenberg's script throws us nothing but curveballs: One surprise follows another, as sudden as stolen bases, the action exceptionally directed by David Whalen. No scene is wasted, and the inflated eloquence of Greenberg's writing is made palatable on the tongues of each well-selected actor. Take Me Out is a rendezvous of pro sports and live theater -- a tryst rarely seen -- and the results are majestic. Home run? Grand slam? Nine-inning blow-out? Pick your metaphor. They're all safe.
For those in the know, Take Me Out has earned some snickers because of its multiple all-nude shower scenes. Despite the audience's initial rustles of discomfort and excitement, these scenes unfold naturally, and the novelty of exposed penises quickly wears off. Male nudity is not what gives Take Me Out its teeth. The teeth are in the writing and acting. And the bite leaves lasting impressions.
Take Me Out continues through June 22. 131 Seventh St., Downtown. $10. 412-456-6666 or www.artfestival.net.