Rounding Third is a homerun at Williamston
Anyone who has played, coached or been a parent through Little League Baseball has known or observed the coach who plainly thinks he is training Major League ball players, or living out his own fantasy of managing the Tigers. Richard Dresser’s Rounding Third, which plays at The Williamston Theatre through Nov. 1, explores the hearts and spirits of two men coming at baseball from two very different mindsets as they grapple with fatherhood and their own places in the world.
Don (John Lepard) is married, and takes his baseball as seriously as Martha Stewart takes seasonal wreath-making and Thanksgiving tables. He has scouting reports on ten-year olds kids before they come to sign-up day, no tolerance for lateness and is more maniacal about winning than a Big Ten college football coach. Michael (Tobin Hissong) is Don’s new assistant, who comes to the first day of practice in a blazer and Oxford shirt, is all about the kids having fun and, to Don’s horror, suggests the kids should tell the coaches where they’d like to play in the field instead of being assigned positions based on the coach’s selection.
Dresser’s dialogue is honed to perfection, and is not surprisingly based on his own experiences in Little League. The interplay between the two men is as funny as Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, with some of the funniest moments coming from what the audience knows is going to be Don’s exasperated and flummoxed reaction to something Michael has just said to the kids that run’s against Don’s hard-bitten philosophy.
The two actors, who nail their respective parts, do not have any actual kids or parents to talk to. They speak out to the audience or to the wings. It is a good choice by the playwright to keep the focus on the two characters. Don is a house-painter living out of his van since his marriage has hit the rocks. Michael’s has lost status at his company and now takes order from someone half his age. Don’s son is on the team–a good pitcher and perhaps the best player on the team. Michael’s son is new to baseball, and is that kid in right field who never seems to catch the ball, nor knows what to do with it when he scrambles to pick it up off the ground. Sterotypes maybe, but they are true.
The two men have more in common than they know or are ready to admit. They both love of their kids, albeit with different ways of expressing it. They miss the love of their respective wives. Neither is pleased with where they have gotten in their careers. They bond beneath the surface of their team shirts, and flirt with the notion of actual friendship.
Directed by Tony Caselli, the play is extremely well cast with two actors who are plainly giving and getting from one another. Amber Marisa Cook’s set and Michelle Raymond’s props perfectly evokes the sideline of a ballfield in the intimate Williamston space. The only thing missing was a stretch of chain-link fence with the bats sticking out of the diamonds of the links.
The comedy–and there are plenty of laughs–comes from Dresser’s capacity of exposing the truth of two opposite characters and then putting them in a spin cycle of coaching the same ball team. Opposites attract, and seeing them clash and care for one another in their own way through the course of the season, delivers the best kind of laughs–tender, human and relatable.