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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Rounding Third
By Gordon Osmond

From the moment the first bat hit the first ball, America's favorite sport has not only provided a forum for athletic endeavor but has also stimulated wide ranging artistic expression in the form of comedies (A League of Her Own, Angels in the Outfield), musicals (Damn Yankees) and melodrama The Pride of the Yankees and, outstandingly, Fear Strikes Out). Within the last year, baseball has, by two very different playwrights, been used as a metaphorical background for commentary upon the human comedy. Take Me Out, which just won the 2003 Tony for Best Play and was a runner-up for the Pulitzer is one. Rounding Third, which has just opened in the Cassius Carter space in San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, is another.

Dresser's play is a tidy, coherent, well constructed conventional two-hander which does no harm and, by evening's end, even some considerable good. It explores the relationship between the incumbent coach of a Little League baseball team whose son is the team's star pitcher -- a solid guy whom the playwright would like you to think of, initially, as an Archie Bunker think-alike -- and his newly-acquired assistant coach, a white collar widower with a maladroit son who pollutes the team's outfield.

Coach Donald, whom no one would think of calling anything but Don, and Assistant Coach Michael, who spends much too much stage time trying not to be called Mike or Mikey, have very different views on the objectives of Little League. Don wants the team to win; Michael wants it to enjoy the game. (The team is apparently constitutionally incapable of doing both). When Don's wife reportedly (in a two-hander third parties can regrettably only report) takes up with Don's best friend who also happens to be Michael's predecessor in office, Don gives up the ghost/post and Michael takes over as Coach.

The strength of this production lies in Richard Dresser's delicious one-liners and the astonishing ability of his co-stars to deliver them with laser-like precision. Due to their efforts, one almost forgets that most of the evening's events are being described rather than dramatized. The Old Globe is indeed fortunate in attracting Jeffrey Hutchinson (Mike) and Tom McGowan (Don) to its boards for the first time. May it not be the last.

Robin Roberts' set is serviceable, with more trap doors than you'd find in a Charlie Chan retrospective. Rob Milburn's music mercifully avoids inclusion of any baseball bromides and the Cassius Carter space proves itself once again to be a most hospitable host for small scale works. The play also includes a show-stopping eleven o'clock number (or is it a seventh inning stretch?) when Michael implores God's assistance when a fly ball invades his catching-challenged son's territory. It is well written, dramatically lighted and brilliantly performed by Mr. Hutchinson.

The play is not without some cork in the bat. Dresser has some trouble deciding whether Mike is deferential or defiant. Don manages to utter "quid pro quo" with perfect Latin intonation moments after an impressive collection of Bunkeresque double negatives. The name game bit wears thin quickly and the playwright doesn't hit a home run when it matters most: both acts' curtain lines are limp. But overall, the Rounding Third team manages to make it home proving once again that a play should not necessarily be benched because it makes sense, has an intermission and lets its audience go home at a reasonable hour.

Editor's Note: This is actually the second time Dresser's play has been up at bat at a California theater -- the first time, at the Laguna Playhouse where Jana J. Monji reviewed a different cast and director. Perhaps the buzz from Richard Greenberg's play about a big time league, will help to seed more productions. For a review of the Laguna production go here. For a review of Take Me Out go here.

Rounding Third
Author: Richard Dresser
Director: David Petrarca
Cast: Tom McGowan (Don) and Jeffrey Hutchinson (Michael)
Scenic Design: Robin Roberts
Costume Design: Lewis Brown
Lighting Design: David Cuthbert
Sound Design: Ron Milburn Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission
The Cassius Carter Centre Stage, Balboa Park, San Diego CA Ph: 619.239.2255 June 1 through July 13, 2003
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