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Like a manager: director Jackson (top row, center) with the cast of Take Me Out.

Director on Deck

Kirk Jackson is Mark Belanger/ Buddy Harrelson thin. His sandy-blond hair is graying, he wears glasses, and he laughs easily. He is also an award-winning director, and an actor familiar to the region’s theatergoers from his stellar performances at Adirondack Theatre Festival—most notably in Art and Stones in His Pocket. Kirk Jackson is a 1974 graduate of Bethlehem High School; he’s also a theater professor, currently at Bennington College.

What Kirk Jackson isn’t, is a baseball fan; at least he wasn’t before directing Take Me Out. Richard Greenberg’s 2003 Tony Award-winning play is about a star baseball player at the zenith of his talents who reveals that he’s gay. Jackson first directed Take Me Out at Washington, D.C.’s Studio Theatre in 2005; now he’s helming the play at Albany’s Capital Repertory Theatre.

“I directed Take Me Out in D.C.,” says Jackson, “at the time the Nationals were just starting, in the spring, and people were abuzz with baseball. They were trying to fund a new stadium, but I wasn’t a baseball fan. I was a fan of the play. I’d seen it in New York and thought it was fabulous . . . but I wasn’t a baseball fan until I directed the play. The actors were all invited to [a] luxury box at RFK [stadium] for a game, but I was involved in another project by then, so I didn’t go, but I’ve gone to games in New York since, and I love it.”

A streak hitter who sprays to all fields, Jackson sat in the lobby of Capital Repertory’s North Pearl Street theater waiting for the evening rehearsal to begin.

“It’s fun doing a play about baseball. All [the actors] played [at] one time or another. . . . They bring a connection to it that I didn’t have until I [directed the play]. There’s a spectacle here . . . we sort of play a game, baseball game, sort of . . . not directly, but we get the excitement of the game. Jake [Suffian, playing Shane Mungitt, the John Rocker-ish redneck relief pitcher] is the ‘baseball choreographer.’ He takes the vocabulary of the way we watch baseball, the iconic frames of the game, and creates those key moments on stage.” Here Jackson mimes a double-play off what seems to be a left-handed curveball, while the smell of glue fills the lobby.

“That’s for the shower scene,” Jackson smiles, indicating the intoxicating aroma. “It’s a very complex play, both in its themes and stagecraft. The shower scene isn’t about sex. . . . It’s nudity.

“I don’t want to give away too much,” Jackson says, “but, thematically, [the nudity] belongs in the play.” They talk about the character who comes out of the closet, and, “they’re suddenly uncomfortable with each other. That didn’t use to be.”

Jackson stops, sighs, smiles.

“The entire society needs to calm down about the penis,” he states in Yogi Berra style.

“But Take Me Out is more than just naked men, baseball, being gay and a celebrity. The play is smart and funny. Frankly it’s very funny. It’s got tragedy, but it’s a funny, feel-good play. That’s a terrible quote, but I’ve seen the play hundreds of times now, and, in a Disney way, I get choked up at the end.”

Jackson has assembled what he considers an all-star cast and crew, using some of the same actors from his award-winning D.C. production, same set designer (Dan Conway), and lighting and costume designers (Michael Giannitti and Barbara Wolfe, who designed the excellent costumes for last season’s stellar Metamorphoses).

Jackson is also directing his partner of 16 years, Oliver Wadsworth, and directing your partner is a little like turning a double play: “It’s fine, great. We don’t do things other couples do. . . . We don’t collect antiques or small dogs or play golf. We love working in the theater.”

“How to communicate with actors? That’s the key. I like working with him. I’ve liked working with all of them. We had a really good time doing this.” As for the play, “I think it’s a really compelling story, with lots of humor: smart, witty, moving, with some really good actors, and there’s a lot of great- looking men naked.”

For those keeping the box score at home, that’s a rare triple play for Take Me Out: It’s a show for baseball fans to humor fans to fans of the penis.

—James Yeara

Take Me Out opens tomorrow (Friday, Jan. 19) at Capital Repertory Theatre (111 N. Pearl St., Albany). For more info, call the box office at 445-7469.

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