What Else is Out There?

A Zag decides to do a little acting

What if a star player for the New York Yankees casually let drop during a press conference that he was gay? What if he were so self-assured (and even arrogant) that he assumed no one would really care? And what if he then became the idol of gay men across America � and the cause of deep discomfort among conservative (and even homophobic) players, both in his own and opposing teams’ locker rooms?

Those are the questions that Richard Greenberg asks in his play Take Me Out (which ran on Broadway in 2003 and is being performed this weekend at Gonzaga University).

But this Gonzaga production � performed in a semi-staged readers theater style � has a life-imitates-art dimension. The lead role of Darren Lemming � the star player on a nationally recognized team � will be read by a star player on the Zags’ nationally recognized basketball team: Steven Gray.

Gray, a junior sociology major from Bainbridge, Wash., is one of the leaders on this year’s frosh-dominated Zags roster. FOXsports. com rates him as the 20th-best shooter in college basketball today.

But given the macho, anti-gay attitude of so many locker rooms � no active athlete in a major-league American team sport has ever taken himself out of the closet � didn’t Gray hesitate before deciding to play the role of a famous gay athlete?

“I have no problems doing a gay scene,” Gray says. “This is just a play. You have a character and you break it down. I just got to a point in college where I wanted to be experiencing other things, just seeing what else is out there.”

He saw a friend (Jacob Moore, who plays Gray’s character’s best friend in Take Me Out) in a play this summer, and “thought I’d try out for a role. And this is the play that they just happened to be doing.”

Gray adds that all his Zag teammates plan on attending the show.

Director Kevin Connell, the principal at Gonzaga Prep, tells a story from auditions that illustrates Gray’s assertiveness and “awareness.” Connell was explaining that Take Me Out has “two good roles for African- Americans.”

“Just two?” Gray asked. He may have a skater kid’s laid-back demeanor, but he knows just when to assert himself and drive hard to the goal.

For a tragedy, Take Me Out has plenty of laugh-out-loud bits, and it will “help women understand how men think � which is, mostly, about nothing,” says Connell, adding, “if you like baseball, you will like this play.” (Even if you don’t, he trimmed it to just 80 minutes.)

Connell emphasizes that “this is not a gay-rights play. Darren’s sexuality is not the most important thing about him.” Instead, Connell says, the play’s about how “men have accomplished a lot, but we don’t exchange meaning well. We can’t talk to each other.”

So perhaps the prejudice that’s being broken down in this version of Take Me Out isn’t homophobia. Instead, what’s being broken down is the dumb-jock stereotype. Plenty of athletes, after all, want to explore what college has to offer. Just like other students.

Connell draws a parallel between role-playing in sports and in theater: “It’s like playing against your best friend,” he says. “You play your hardest against him during the game, then you’re back to being friends after.”

Basketball, drama, life � it’s all role-playing. By acting in Take Me Out, Steven Gray is just playing an away game in a different arena. n michael@inlander.com

The Gonzaga Readers Theater Project presents Take Me Out on Wednesday-Thursday, Nov. 11-12, at 7 pm and on Friday, Nov. 13, at 10 pm at Magnuson Theater, 502 E. Boone Ave. Donations requested; mature audiences. Write russob@gonzaga.edu or call 313-6551 or 994-2788.