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LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Southern California Review
by Jana J. Monji
Sports and fatherhood can be an uneasy mix, with parents resorting to fisticuffs when words—including four-letter ones—fail. There isn't any violence or foul language in Richard Dresser's comedy, Rounding Third, at the Laguna Playhouse. His contemplation about the fathers who run Little League is neither deep nor played entirely for laughs. Assuredly acted by a well-matched duo and guided past possibly maudlin moments by director Andrew Barnicle, this play affords a few comfortable chuckles. Just don't expect it to leave any lasting impressions when you exit into the night.
Although Little League is about the under 12-year-old set, the prerequisite coming-of-age childish humiliations of the baseball playing kiddies aren't seen, but described. Dresser prefers to focus on the two fathers who, acting as coaches, learn to hate each other a little less and attempt to make their weekend lives better than their week day work drill realities.
The play opens with Don (Michael Mulheren), the experienced Little League coach, waiting to meet his new assistant, Michael (Kevin Symons). Where Don is slouchy and sloppy, Michael is stiff and conservative. He wears a tie and a long sleeve shirt with his cell phone plainly visible because he's always taking calls. Far worse, Michael isn't even a baseball fan and his son is the geeky kid with glasses who can't run, can't catch, can't throw and tends to panic. Yes, Michael's son is the boy no one wants on his team.
For a coach bent on winning, being forced to include this walking disaster is the first of many frustrations Michael brings into Don's world. Michael doesn't exactly know baseball. He's Canadian and played curling. He also a bit of a dimwit, coming to practice in creased trousers and a tie with sweater vest. Surely even in Canada, people wear sweatshirts and pants.
Michael slowly loosens up while challenging Don's must-win attitude. Dresser doesn't make this a feel-good Disney miracle, but neither does he really dissect the dynamics of kids, parents and the pressure to win that has taken Little League into the hall of shame on occasion.
Mulheren, who received a 2000 Tony nomination for best featured actor in a musical for his performance as a singing gangster in the Broadway revival of Kiss Me Kate, has the bluster and the eye-rolling impatience of a blue collar boy feeling a slight chip on his shoulder when forced to play nice with Symons' too-nice, too-neat white collar geek. They are the odd couple and their chemistry works, but doesn't spark like some more famous odd couples.
Director Barnicle keeps the tone sweet, but with a little tartness meant to tweak at our heartstrings—although not too hard. Yet ultimately, Dresser's scripting is a bundle of convenient contrivances. The wife problems, the name game that tricks Don into thinking Michael's son is someone else, the sudden disinterest Don's son displays toward the game are all too nicely arranged.
In the end, you don't see the boys or feel the intensity of the parental pressure or the stress on the boys or the coaches. Instead, you wonder why a father would: 1) ask his son to learn a new sport by joining a league that he only has one more year of eligibility in and 2) has no real experience in himself. Father and son couldn't bond over chess?
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Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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