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Fair Ball

By Angela Shawn-Chi Lu

Oct. 6, 2004 9:00 p.m.

Actor Terrell Tilford is completely irritated with the fact that
he keeps getting questioned about performing nude on stage.

“I don’t really understand why,” he said.
“Can you explain that to me? It’s not really a big
deal.”

The 35-year-old actor, who played Malik Todd on Showtime’s
“Soul Food,” is now performing the lead role in
“Take Me Out,” the 2003 Tony award-winning play for
best drama by Richard Greenberg. The show is running until Oct. 31
at the Brentwood Theatre, the temporary location of the Geffen
Playhouse until renovations for the Westwood location are completed
next year.

Tilford plays Darren Lemming, a black gay superstar baseball
player who comes out of the closet publicly. But what has made the
play particularly controversial, next to the subject matter of
homosexuality, is the large amount of full-frontal male nudity.

There are a total of three locker-room shower scenes that some
critics have felt to be excessive. The second shower scene includes
the entire baseball team.

Others feel the nudity is essential to the story’s
confrontation of the gay athlete taboo.

“The nudity is justified,” Tilford said.
“It’s surfacing Greenberg’s ideas on how people
perceive and look at homosexuality and how it also affects certain
people in their daily lives when it’s made an issue.
It’s what people’s initial threat is.”

Director Randall Arney agrees that nudity is essential to the
story. He even paralleled Greenberg’s play to the story of
Adam and Eve, as Lemming’s coming out forces his teammates to
recognize their own nakedness.

For Tilford, who is an avid art collector and gallery owner,
nudity often serves an important purpose in any art, if not just
for beauty.

“The human body is a beautiful artistic creation,”
Tilford said. “And depending on how artists have used it, it
can be something that’s either provocative or
thought-provoking or just beautiful.”

But Tilford recognizes that some people are much more sensitive
to nudity than others.

“It’s very easy or it’s very difficult for
people to contend with nudity. It’s really very natural. I
mean, we just take it for granted in many respects because of
pornography, because of all the evil, bad sides of it.”

Tilford admits he has heard gasps from the audience during the
shower scenes. But Arney insists that even conservative audience
members have found the scenes not gratuitous and even instrumental
to the show.

Nudity is just part of the play’s straightforward approach
to issues of identity and intolerance.

“It doesn’t pull any punches,” Tilford said.
“It puts the issues out there and allows people to come up
with their own conclusions regarding it.”

And the issues being dealt with on stage at the Brentwood,
especially intolerance toward homosexuality, are also those being
dealt with currently on the national stage. Directors of the Geffen
were well aware that the correct timing for the play would aid
discussion of the issues it addresses.

With the upcoming presidential election on Nov. 2 and the World
Series currently in play, these issues have become increasingly
relevant. And it wasn’t so long ago (Aug. 12) that New Jersey
Governor Jim McGreevey became the first openly gay American
governor.

But the issue of intolerance toward gays goes back much further.
Playwright Greenberg was originally inspired to write the play
after the contiguous events in 1999 of the coming out of San Diego
Padres outfielder Billy Bean and the bigoted remarks of Atlanta
Braves relief pitcher John Rocker in a Sports Illustrated
article.

In tackling pertinent American issues, “Take Me Out”
has received high nods from most critics, but some say the
play’s message is too ambiguous.

But Tilford believes there is a clear message.

“Baseball is better than democracy,” he joked,
“or at least how it’s practiced in this
country.”

Arney said the play instead is just complex.

“It’s wonderfully funny and poignant,” he
said. “There’s a lot of hope in the play, hope for
democracy in America. By the same token, it also points out that
there is still intolerance in our country and we have a long way to
go, and the play has something to say about respecting each other
and respecting each other’s individuality.”

For Arney, simply providing a platform for discussion is
important in itself.

“We might be part of that great national conversation
that’s going on now,” Arney said. “Just on an
individual basis, I hope that we’re making people think and
making people feel and making people look around at the people next
to them.”

If nothing else, the play has at least caused some of the cast
and crew to think differently.

“Somebody in rehearsal once said that America has been
called a melting pot,” Arney said. “It’s much
less a melting pot and more like a salad, where it takes all types
of ingredients to make a salad, and you can toss it and toss it and
they don’t lose their individuality, they just become part of
the whole salad.”

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Angela Shawn-Chi Lu
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