Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, September 2006
Rounding Third is a pleasant little comedy about two little league coaches with very different views of the game that is being given a pleasant little production at the Theater Barn. Artistic Director Michael Marotta said that when he read this two-man play by Richard Dresser he immediately knew that it would be perfect for the Barn’s fall season, a time when small cast shows with gentle humor – big on characterizations and low on technical demands – are just the ticket.
Don (Anthony Crep) is a housepainter by trade and a Little League coach at heart. He is passionate about the game, has vivid memories of his own Little League experiences, and espouses a “win at all costs” philosophy. His son Jimmy is the team’s star pitcher.
Michael (Bill Allgood) is a professional man whose youthful athletic experience was gained on the curling court in Canada. He has signed on as Don’s assistant coach in order to spend more quality time with his stepson, who is the team’s weak link.
The two men don’t know each other until their first Coaches’ Meeting in a local bar, where Don has a beer and Michael abstains, and it is hardly love at first sight. In fact, at the end of the play, although they have shared many potentially bonding experiences as coaches and as men, husbands, and fathers in the course of the baseball season, they agree that they are not, and never will be, close friends.
Dresser wrote this play from personal experience, and it is definitely funnier if you have been personally involved in youth sports yourself. While he builds the characters of Don and Michael slowly and subtly, the central character in this play is the game of baseball, which Don adores and Michael learns to love over the course of the play.
As I prepared to write this review I tried very hard to pretend that I didn’t just see and review a production of this play at the Chester Theatre Company about six weeks ago, but I find that that is impossible. Comparison is inevitable, especially seeing the two productions so close together, but it is also unfair to you, the reader, since you do not have a choice between seeing this production or that one.
The production at Chester was very different from this one at the Barn, but I am happy to say that I found both of them very enjoyable. Rounding Third is not a profound or life changing play, but it is good fun and well worth a viewing.
The Barn’s production, under the direction of Chris Dolman, is broader, going more for the big laughs. Crep, who I felt was miscast in Deathtrap earlier this season, was fun and funny as the paint-spattered Don. His interpretation of the character was very life-like – I felt that I could walk into any local bar and meet a pile of Dons any day of the week.
Allgood played Michael as the prototypical 98-pound weakling, the guy who used to get sand kicked in his face in all those body-building ads on the back pages of DC comics. This makes his moments of passion more intense and surprising, and his ultimate embrace of the competitive aspects of the game funny and enjoyable.
The one thing that I felt Dolman, Crep and Allgood missed that the team at Chester had done well was give us a sense of the unseen players. After I saw this show in July I had a vivid mental image of every single one of the boys on the team. After this performance I barely remembered their names. I had enjoyed the theatrical illusion that there were twelve additional characters in this play, and I missed it this time around.
The set for Rounding Third is a simple one – after the bar scene at the beginning the rest of the play takes place at and near by the ball park. But Abe Phelps has pulled a neat trick and placed the back-end of Don’s van on stage. Unless I am greatly mistaken, that was actually the back-end of a van. I was dying to duck behind the curtain to see if the rest of the vehicle was back there or whether I was seeing a junkyard amputee (I suspect the latter) but it was a fun effect and added depth to Crep’s character.
The set did include one very obvious product placement in the bar scene and some advertising for Theater Barn sponsors along the back fence of the ball park. I enjoyed the latter and was annoyed by the former. Did Anheuser-Busch sponsor this production? If so, maybe there was an entire van backstage.
Now, I will let my New York pride show for a moment and kvetch that, in what I could have sworn was NEW YORK STATE, I was forced to cheer for that Boston team once again. Dresser has set his play “near a big city in the USA” and Dolman has obviously decided that the city is Boston, probably to please the local crowds, who should remember what state they are sitting in and cheer for the RIGHT team. Don’s team is called the Lil’ Red Sox and he proudly wears a Red Sox cap. Michael’s Yankees cap goes into the trash the moment Don claps eyes on it. Sigh! I can only assume that BoSox pride has oozed insidiously across the border into Columbia County.
The best thing about Rounding Third is that it is a play parents can enjoy with their 10-15 year old children, which is a rare thing to find! When I saw the show at Chester there was a young man sitting in front of me with his parents and it was obvious that the whole family was having a wonderful time laughing at accurate representations of all-too-familiar people and experiences from the Little League field. What a great family outing!
There is some coarse language, but I am sure you hear worse at a real ballgame, and there is reference to marital infidelity, but overall Rounding Third espouses the importance of family and good sportsmanship that should be at the heart of any youth sports program. The character of Michael is an excellent role model for stepfathers everywhere, and Don, for all his bluster, is a family man at heart.
Rounding Third runs through September 17 at the Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs two hours and ten minutes with one intermission. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2006