NEW YORK (AP) — Earlier this month, Jesse Tyler Ferguson got a private tour of sacred ground — Yankee Stadium. He and the cast of the Broadway revival of the baseball-themed “Take Me Out” got to walk on the grass and soak in the silent stands.
“I wasn’t going as far as I expected,” says the “Modern Family” and Broadway star. “It was worthwhile in ways I didn’t expect.”
Life was imitating art as the final scene of Richard Greenberg’s Tony Award-winning play is a private moment in an empty Yankee stadium. “I feel like I’m having some of these parallel moments,” Ferguson says.
“Take Me Out” explores what happens when a Major League Baseball superstar comes out as gay, the way it destabilizes the team and exposes toxic prejudices. Greenberg’s immaculate look includes shower scenes with surreal water and nudity. (The phones of theater patrons are turned off upon entering the Hayes Theater to protect the actors’ privacy.)
“Grey’s Anatomy” star Jesse Williams plays the star baller and Ferguson plays his immoral gay accountant, Mason Marzac, an avid enthusiast in the game. The play was originally staged in 2002 with Dennis O’Hare playing Ferguson and won a Tony for it.
The Associated Press recently asked Ferguson for his thoughts on the play, why it’s so important to come out and the unintended benefit of snatching theater-goers’ phones.
AP: What do you think the last 20 years have done for drama?
Ferguson: I think, in a bad way, the drama is still very relevant and feels very refreshing. There has always been homophobia. It’s something that I don’t think will ever go away. But it has been given more voice and especially in the last two years to allow it to be spoken aloud.
AP: We still don’t have a major league player in 2022. Why is it so important?
Ferguson: I just feel like visibility is so important and representation is so important. I didn’t have kids growing up as a kid, and I’d turn on the TV and I didn’t recognize myself in any of the programs. When I got the chance to do “Modern Family,” I was just so grateful I could have some kids—that I could be part of a loving couple and someone would be watching me, “Okay, I can aspire to it. It’s something I can hope for one day, having a family with someone of the same gender as me.” I just feel like you still need it in games.
AP: Some pro athletes have certainly come out, but a small amount.
Ferguson: I appreciate them and I know some of them. I’ve had the chance to meet a few of them, and they’ve already told me, “There are many more of us.” It’s just scary. I never want anyone to be taken out of the closet ever. I want it to be something that feels authentic and something that they are up for. But at the same time, I want there to be more representation, more visibility within the game.
AP: Have you ever caught the original “Take Me Out”?
Ferguson: I actually saw it three times. It was a drama that definitely stayed with me. And Dennis O’Hare’s performance in particular stuck with me so much, that many of his lines came back when I was re-reading the play. I can barely remember what I ate yesterday and the fact that I could remember how he said a few lines was crazy.
AP: Are you a baseball fan in real life?
Ferguson: Listen, I’m not a big fan of baseball. I enjoy going to sports, but I’ve fallen in love with Mason and his words. He has this speech about what it means and how it stands for democracy and the points he has made are lovely. I have fallen in love with baseball through that.
AP: Broadway’s pandemic kicked off in 2020 because you were still in rehearsal. Did you spend the next two years walking your line?
Ferguson: No. I couldn’t pick up the piece. I could not see these words. It was very heartwarming to watch because I didn’t know for sure if I was ever going to be able to do this drama.
AP: All viewers’ phones are off for this show. Apart from not airing nude images of the actors, how has this affected the production?
Ferguson: It’s unheard of: We have 600 people every night who are basically off to their devices. In the intermission, they are talking about the play and they are watching the show and they are living in the moment. I feel like the audience has been more attentive than any other show I’ve done. And I think it’s because they don’t have that distraction and knowing they have something in their pocket that they can see. It’s really out of sight, out of mind. And I guess I wish they did it in all the shows.
Mark Kennedy is here