‘Take Me Out’ reviews: ‘Provocative’ revival poised to hit home run at Tony Awards

The ensemble of Second Stage Theatre’s revival of “Take Me Out” has waited over two years for the first pitch of this baseball drama on Broadway, but after the lengthy pandemic delay the remounting finally opened on April 4 at the Hayes Theater. Playwright Richard Greenberg’s Tony-winning play centers on fictional baseball team The Empires and chronicles the personal and professional fallout after the center-fielder Darren Lemming (Jesse Williams) reveals that he is gay. The ensemble boasts recognizable faces including Williams and Patrick J. Adams in their Broadway debuts, plus Broadway mainstays Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Brandon J. Dirden, and others under the direction of Tony-nominee Scott Ellis.

“Take Me Out” received strong notices from critics, who note how the play still feels relevant despite how much American culture has evolved in the past 20 years. In a Critic’s Pick review, Jesse Green (New York Times) calls the work “mostly delightful and provocative,” both a “funny” play “with an unusually high density for laughs” and sufficiently “cerebral.” He credits Ellis’ “assured and sprightly if visually underpowered” direction of the piece and calls out four of the performances: Ferguson, who offers a “wonderfully detailed comic performance that is nevertheless full of yearning and unexpected elation;” Williams, who “nails the way the glamour of the gifted can keep them from full lives;” Dirden, who “gives a perfectly etched performance;” and Michael Oberholtzer, who “seems to disappear into his damaged self.”

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Adam Feldman (Time Out New York) gives the production four stars out of five, deeming the show “provocative, intelligent and engaging.” “The play’s investigations of class, race and masculinity seem as relevant today as they were two decades ago,” he writes. Of the cast, he similarly calls Ferguson “wondrous” and “warm, sweet and infectiously enthusiastic” as “the show’s most valuable player.” Feldman also credits Williams, who “balances believable swagger with lovely shades of growing self-awareness,” and praises Oberholtzer, who “brings high-low intensity to his performance” and Dirden as “a pillar of testy rectitude.”

Helen Shaw (Vulture) offers a similarly positive assessment, but emphasizes different facets of the production. She notes, “Greenberg’s deftly constructed play is full of dramaturgical distractions to keep us off balance,” but stresses, “Under Scott Ellis’s direction, the clownish characters go extremely silly and broad.” Shaw offers kind words for Ferguson, who “breaths in the smell of the grass at the stadium, and his face transforms, blissing out, starting to shine. He does a lovely job with the role,” but also emphasizes, “It’s a bravura role and Ferguson is simply not the bravura type.” Instead, she saves her praise for Dirden, who enters his two scenes “with a low-rider gait that establishes dominance over the others” and demonstrates how he “can play big and seem delicate.”

WATCH 2022 Tony Awards slugfest: 13 productions vie for places in Musical races

With five play revivals still to open in April before the Tony eligibility cutoff, it may seem premature to definitively call balls and strikes, but “Take Me Out” looks like an incredibly strong contender in the Best Revival category. The original 2003 production did win Best Play, after all, and the revival manages to make the material feel contemporary and relevant. Our combined odds like its chances, too, as it currently ranks in second place, behind the forthcoming “for colored girls…” and leading “How I Learned to Drive,” “Trouble in Mind,” and “Macbeth.” Its competitors could also include “American Buffalo,” “Lackawanna Blues,” “Plaza Suite,” and “The Skin of Our Teeth.”

At the helm of the production, Scott Ellis also looks on track for his 10th career Tony nomination. Despite all of those accolades, which date back almost 30 years to his first bid in 1994 for a revival of musical “She Loves Me,” Ellis has never won. This year just might do it for him, though he’d have to overcome the category frontrunner Sam Mendes for the epic play “The Lehman Trilogy” or Camille A. Brown at the helm of “for colored girls…” at the very least. In 2003, Joe Mantello took home his first Tony for directing the original production.

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The production will also perform quite well in the acting categories, but it has so many solid contenders that it might seem hard to bank on who will make the cut. Clearly out front for Featured Actor is Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who received strong reviews and stars in one of the most memorable roles of the show. His predecessor in the original production, Denis O’Hare, took home the Tony for his performance in 2003, and Ferguson could follow in his footsteps; he currently ranks second in our odds, just trailing Chuck Cooper (“Trouble in Mind”), although Alfie Allen (“Hangmen”) has the most user predictions of any contender.

As the de facto lead of the ensemble, Williams also earned praise for his Broadway debut, but lags far behind in the Best Actor race. He will likely compete in the Featured category, though, as he is not billed above the title and Daniel Sunjata, who originated the role, earned a Tony bid in Featured. The producers may try to petition him up to avoid too much internal competition in this category, though that race is overwhelming with actors including Daniel Craig (“Macbeth”), David Morse (“How I Learned to Drive”), Laurence Fishburne (“American Buffalo”), Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, and Adrian Lester from “The Lehman Trilogy,” plus David Threlfall (“Hangmen”), and many others.

SEE ‘Plaza Suite’ returns to Broadway with an ‘exuberant’ Sarah Jessica Parker in an otherwise ‘overlong’ production

But what about the other acting standouts? Reviewers also sing the praises of Brandon J. Dirden and Michael Oberholtzer. Dirden is having a particularly strong season on the stage, first starring opposite Phylicia Rashad in “Skeleton Crew” to strong notices and now “Take Me Out.” Even though the latter closed back in February, he had a more substantial role there and could earn the bid for that show instead. Oberholtzer, in only his second Broadway production, tackles one of the trickiest and certainly most sinister roles in the show with aplomb, and is exactly the kind of scene stealer that the nominators often go for in the Featured category.

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