October Drama

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October Drama
This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

Over the past decade, Richard Greenberg has gone from being one of America's most promising playwrights to becoming one of it's finest playwrights. Period. But many people still don't know who he is. Some of this is due to his decidedly un-theatrical name--Richard Greenberg sounds more like a prominent physician than a prominent playwright--but mostly it's due to the fact that his plays have only been staged by smaller nonprofit theaters in New York.

The exception to this has been Orange County, where audiences have been able to see Greenberg's work due to his longtime association with South Coast Rep; but in the last few weeks, theatergoers in the 310 and 818 area codes have had the opportunity to view two of Richard Greenberg's most important plays.

This past week, the Alex Theatre in Glendale presented a staged reading of Greenberg's first success: Eastern Standard. This light comedy debuted on Broadway 15 years ago and it showed a 31 year-old writer bursting with potential.

Eastern Standard focuses on six New Yorkers who's lives intersect over lunch at a Manhattan restaurant. The play often feels too much like the work of a young writer, as it labors to include a clever turn of phrase on almost every page. Also, its characters--the artist, the architect, a homeless lady--often feel like flashy generic types rather than flesh and blood human beings.

But Eastern Standard plainly reveals Greenberg's considerable talent for dialogue. During the reading, one of the characters explained his friend's conflicting emotions as the result of &quotthe; unexpected availability of what you secretly want." In the pause before the next line, you could hear the audience slightly catch its collective breath as each person thought about that elegant phrase and what it meant to them.

After Eastern Standard, Greenberg wrote a number of plays--most which showed a growing sensitivity to characterization as well as his penchant for dialogue. Many of these works garnered acclaim, but none made it back to Broadway. That changed in 2003 with his baseball-themed drama, Take Me Out.

Take Me Out is one of those rare theatrical events that melds a great playwright with an even greater gimmick. The result is a piece of theater that has become a real cultural phenomenon, reaching a wide audience of theater fans, sports fans, and fans of...well, you'll see for yourself.

Since its Broadway success (where it won the Tony for Best New Play and was shortlisted for a Pulitzer), Take Me Out is being rushed into theaters all over the country.

The Geffen staging is a faithful interpretation, but this West Coast Premiere lacks the brash confidence of the New York production. In the main role, Terrell Tilford, while credible, just doesn't have the necessary glow of invincibility that Daniel Sunjata so wonderfully radiated from the stage. Also, the nude shower scene--the play's ingenious gimmick--seems tentative here in Randall Arney's staging, instead of shamelessly in-your-face.

The most memorable part of Take Me Out is, of course, the &quotMarz; Monologue," a glittering aria about the intoxicating symmetry of baseball. Here, Jeffery Hutchinson doesn't infuse the monologue with the childlike rapture of Denis O'Hare, but still the words remain a testament to Greenberg's talent.

Perhaps the smartest thing about Take Me Out is Greenberg's decision to make the drama of the play centered around baseball as a idea and not the outcome of a game or season. That type of drama is best left to the real thing--as those who watched the Boston Red Sox come-from-behind victories over the Yankees this past week, can attest to.

People infected with the American Pastime will no doubt need to watch the World Series to see if the Red Sox break their legendary curse. But theatergoers, whether they've seen Take Me Out or not, may want to tune in as well--history has shown that when Boston plays in the World Series, the baseball diamond magically becomes a stage for high drama, suspense, and most of all, heartbreak.

The World Series begins this Saturday night at Fenway Park. Take Me Out continues at the Brentwood Theatre until October 31.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.