The new Broadway revival of Richard Greenberg’s Tony-winning play, Take Me Out, stars two veterans of New York theater, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Brandon Dirden. But the show’s cast consists of two newcomers, with actors Jesse Williams and Patrick J. Adams both making their Broadway debuts. Williams will also star in a planned limited series adaptation of the play.
In Take Me Out, which premieres April 4, Darren Lemming (Williams) is the mixed-race superstar of the defending champion New York Empires. His enchanted life is turned upside down when he comes out as gay and brushes aside concerns about the possible reactions of his closest friend on the team, Kippy Sunderstrom (Adams).
Although new to Broadway, both Williams and Adams drew on experiences in their own lives to portray the roles of Lemming and Sunderstrom, respectively: Williams spent years playing baseball and appeared in dramatic roles on Grey’s Anatomy . Adam’s own television bon-fides, including a turn in Suits and numerous stage appearances at Los Angeles-area theaters, gave him the potential to play Sunderstrom.
In Southern California, Adams most recently starred in the Old Globe Theater’s world premiere production of Anna Ziegler’s The Last Match, and he also produced and starred in Bootleg Theater’s 9 Circles, for which he received a Backstage Garland Award for Best Performance In a play and was nominated for a 2012 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Lead.
Though a lot has changed since Take Me Out debuted two decades ago, including the legalization of gay marriage, it’s still a rarity for professional male athletes to come out. “We hope that the play can at least draw attention to all that hasn’t changed,” says Adams, who recently sat with Williams at the Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway, where the show is running. “If we can help people live their truth, that would be great,” adds Williams.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You have a nice swing, Jesse.
Jess Williams: Thanks. I appreciate it.
Patrick Adams: Later in the show, I’ll rock back on stage, always hoping no one is looking. I’ve asked Jesse for tips, but I’m never quite that good. I wasn’t a great athlete.
What made you decide to tackle Broadway?
Williams: I was willing to do something other than TV, get out of my comfort zone, have an adventure and be really scared and learn and fall and make mistakes. But it was discouraging as hell.
Adam’s: Theater has been a big part of my life for a long time and then I started doing more TV, but I’ve always tried to get back to theatre.
I’d never done theater in New York, so coming to Broadway was part of the appeal. I’ve auditioned for things here, but I think sometimes when you’re an LA actor, even if you’re a theater actor, it takes some time to educate people about you. I hadn’t come close to getting anything.
Also, I don’t talk about it much, but the last time I did theater I had immense panic and stage fright, so theater was something I thought was looking back. But I realized there was something about having to face that fear that really mattered to me.
What drew you to Take Me Out?
Adam’s: All I knew about Take Me Out was that it was the naked baseball game. I immediately thought no because I’m the last person in the world who wants to be naked in front of 500 people. But I read the play and it was so good and I thought, “If I say no to that, then I don’t have to want to do theater.” So I had to come to New York.
Williams: The piece suited me perfectly. Not only is it objectively good and smart, but baseball was a big part of my life – it was a real bond for me and my dad, it was an important part of my upbringing. And I could understand what the characters are going through, not just because of baseball, but also because of identity issues and other people’s projections of your identity.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Brandon Dirden are New York stage veterans. Did you contact her?
Williams: Yes. I keep pestering her with questions. I take any advice. There are no stupid questions with them. Everyone is so damn humble and generous. There is a lot of positive reinforcement. Brandon and I have these intimate, emotionally momentous scenes, and I see him as a kind of elder.
Adam’s: A lot of people in your position, Jesse, would be afraid of taking too many notes, but your ability to say, “What do you have?” is phenomenal. I can only process so many things.
Williams: I’m an information junkie.
They started work on the play before the world shut down. How is this affecting your performance?
Williams: When we returned two years later, I felt emotionally more mature and available. The character just sat there, but I’ve grown and see some of my own BS more clearly now.
Adam’s: That’s right. I feel like a different person. I had a baby during the pandemic. I looked at myself in all possible ways.
And the world has changed – people appreciate this desire to be in spaces together. The audience has been tremendous so far, so supportive and direct with us, more so than any other track I’ve done. You can feel the audience’s excitement to share a space together. It was something I used to take for granted, but now it feels ceremonial and has a magical quality and gives me a real sense of gratitude.
On your first night in front of a Broadway audience, were you ecstatic or thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?”
Adam’s: The opening night on Broadway was one of the greatest nights of my life.
Williams: Every night I have these two feelings. It’s a balancing act. There are times when it feels euphoric, and then there are times when you think, “I’m going to destroy everything we’ve built.”
Adam’s: Theater actors train all their lives and Jesse’s ability to pick up surfing lessons right away is phenomenal, which is a gift to the entire cast – I still struggle with that.
Patrick, how’s your stage fright?
Adam’s: I deal with anxiety every day, but I have tools now that I didn’t have before. Sometimes they work great, some days they don’t. Part of the fear is the feeling that if you screw up and go a few inches to the left, you’ll come off the tightrope and be a dead man. That’s how I used to act on stage, with a lot of fear and the need to be perfect. I’m trying to get away from perfect.
I wish I could wake up one morning and the anxiety was gone, but some people say when that happens you’re in trouble. I need the right level of fear and then I have to accept it instead of fighting it or running away from it like I’ve been doing.
Williams: We’re actors and we tell a story, but what often gets in the way of that is that inside our own heads we’re telling our story. “What if” and then “What if” and then we’re gone.
Adam’s: My story is loudest before the play begins. I’m in anticipation anxiety. Now that the curtain goes up and I can start speaking I feel a lot better. I’m playing a great game with my friends on stage. Doing that on Broadway in New York is amazing. And the audience here is such a turning point for me – it’s a cure for my anxiety.
Until you have to be naked, of course. These nude scenes work metaphorically, but it also seemed to me that the audience was less shocked than during the original execution.
Williams: Maybe we’ll get a little more hip and people will realize it’s just a human body.
Adam’s: I love that the nudity isn’t sexualized. Although I’m afraid of being naked on stage, I love this scene because the writing is so beautiful – it says we’ve lost a kind of paradise when we see that we’re naked; This thing that was cheerful and funny has now been weaponized because of our own fears and insecurities. Someone told us their truth, and instead of accepting it, we lost something. And this scene can only be as beautiful when six naked men are on stage to show it.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-04-04/take-me-out-broadway-jesse-williams-patrick-adams “Take Me Out” stars want audiences to “live their truth.”