As the Cardinal Stage Company’s Rounding Third opens in the tightly packed Rose Firebay Don, John Armstrong a veteran Little League coach is enjoying a beer, occasionally consulting a battered clipboard and looking at his watch. Michael, not Mike and never Mickie, Jay Hemphill a new assistant coach joins him at the little table. Don is a playing and coaching veteran, with a talented pitching son on the team. Michael’s experience is with curling in Canada and his eyeglass-wearing son has never played organized ball.
If images of the Odd Couple with Walter Mathau and Jack Lemon or Jack Klugman and Tony Randall come to mind, you’re forgiven. This play will take you deeper than either the movie or the TV show. Playwright Richard Dresser actually was a neophyte assistant Little League coach. Rich details from research and his own fledgling experience do make for a rich backdrop. Initially it’s about Don’s definition of fun, depending on winning and Michael’s hope that fun will come out of the experience. Don still remembers statistics and missed opportunities in games that he played when he was twelve. Michael remembers curling parties where everyone had a good time and no one remembers the scores.
Eric Gautille is the stage designer for Rounding Third. There’s the limestone block wall for the opening bar, gracefully moving to the right to frame the coach’s bench with the Firebay’s brick as a backdrop and a sturdy wire screen to the left. There’s a triangle of grass on the floor hinting at the playing field. Occasionally seats from Don’s van are rolled in. Daniel Perestein contributes a background of baseball play by play before the opening and the sounds from the field and the weather on cue. Skylar Delk’s lighting works nicely with that weather and the moods of the play. Costume designer Christopher Simanton is responsible for the comfortable baseball look of Don and the just from-the-office look and gradually more sure look of Michael. Corey Hollinger handles props. Stage Manager Philip Christiansen is in charge of bringing all the elements together.
John Armstrong is quite wonderful, always on as the hawk faced, win committed, baseball savvy Don. The game and the team are something he’s thinking about while drinking a beer, painting a house, dreaming a strategy, coaching runner, or brushing his teeth in the van that’s become his home. Don is not a smooth character and Armstrong makes the most of his variety. Jay Hemphill handle’s his Michael with equal skill and opportunities for a bit more variety. His transition from the suit-wearing neophyte to the committed coach is not an easy one, there are separate steps and he shows it.
The happy conclusions of Rounding Third for the coaches and fathers of the team is not on the level of the earlier parts, but they’re okay and hinted at in the opening scenes. There is a bit of characteristic tension around each. Don is excited that his athletic son has “killed” in a school musical as a dancer and isn’t a bad singer. Michael, now Mike…well, there’s a high fly ball headed to his eyeglass-wearing son and a halo lit Mike is furiously praying…
Guest director Mathew Decker moves the action fluidly through both acts. Seats are close in the Rose Firebay and the tension actually gets just a little wearing, but it’s worth it. The Cardinal Stage Company’s production of Rounding Third plays through February 10th. It’s as close to baseball as you’ll get until the sun shines on spring training.
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker