If there is one local show that you really ought to go see — because it is beautifully written, perfectly acted, and hilariously funny (in other words, what we all could use right now) — it’s Richard Dresser’s two man play about Little League baseball. For two more weekends, The Stray Kats Theatre Company is presenting Rounding Third in Edmond Town Hall’s Alexandria Room.
Most of us who have children retain memories of organized youth sports, and the long-suffering fathers (and mothers) who turn out as volunteer coaches. I can fondly recall one placid dad sending a five-year-old soccer player out to replace the left fullback: “Left, Kevin, left! Raise your left hand, Kevin. No, raise your other left hand…”
And then there was the irascible coach on one of the basketball teams my son played against in fifth grade, who used to bang his head against the gym wall to convey his frustration with their poor defense.
Rounding Third charts the thorny relationship between two such volunteers. The play opens with Michael’s arrival as the new assistant coach for the team Don has led to victory for the past seven years. The work continues by following the trajectory of the pair’s frequently comic interactions over the next six months.
It’s hard to imagine two men who could be more different, physically, emotionally, and philosophically, differences which come out in everything from their body language to their views on how practice should be conducted, the importance of winning, and the proper nature of guy behavior.
Don swigs beer from the bottle. Michael drinks latte, from a Starbucks cup, which he carefully deposits in the trash when he finishes. Don paints peoples’ houses for a living. Michael has some apparently cerebral job with a large electronics company.
Don’s son Jimmy is a star athlete (like his father was) who will be the centerpiece of the 12-year-old squad in the coming Little League season. Michael’s son Frankie is a bespectacled wimp who, like his father, has never played baseball in his life.
Clearly Don is a bully, a swaggering bundle of macho aggression, radiating the kind of attitude that has made schoolyards an arena of pain and humiliation for certain kinds of kids, suggesting at the outset that he is the villain of the piece, and that the play means to convey the dark side of organized youth sports. But that is not the point at all.
The play is a study of character and growth, as much as it is about baseball.
Michael’s mild-mannered politeness and sensitivity, which exasperates his fellow coach to the point of outrage, doesn’t do the team — nor his son, nor himself — any good either. His proclamation that “winning doesn’t matter” is less a demonstration of sportsmanship and wisdom, than an indication of a lifelong habit of appeasement, dating back to a childhood in which he was always the kid not picked for any team, pretending he didn’t care.
What must happen is something that is crucially important in the real world right now. These two such disparate opposites must somehow learn to listen to each other, and to get beyond the bluster and righteous indignation to find some common ground of understanding. It is as important for Michael to learn how to assert himself, as it is for Don to acquire a little more tolerance and insight. These men may never be friends off the field, but they can build a structure of compromise that is more useful and meaningful than what was there at the outset.
As performed by Equity professionals Steven L. Barron (as Michael) and JP Sarro (Don), Rounding Third is totally absorbing, as well as delightfully entertaining.
Although the audience never sees the kids, the reactions of the two men as they watch each game makes one feel as though they are right there on the sidelines. The expression on Sarro’s face throughout the interminable wait to see if the inept right-fielder will actually catch a fly ball is worth the price of admission all by itself.
Baseball has always been a metaphor for life, with its moments of drama, its frustrations, its hopes of glory, and above all the lessons it teaches about fellowship and the joy of being part of a team. This month, as spring training once again signals the end of winter and the eventual rebirth of the year, this show is all the more enjoyable.
Several things are worth noting here: While many previous Stray Kats productions have been readings, with actors on a bare stage speaking from scripts, this production is done with sets, designed and painted by Tech Director Jennifer Rogers and her assistants.
Also, courtesy of a generous benefactor, the ticket prices have been reduced. The show will be on for the next two weekends, and you really should not miss it.
(Performances continue Friday and Saturday evenings at 8, and Sunday, March 17, at 2, until March 17.
Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and can be reserved at www.StrayKatsTheatreCompany.org. Tickets can also be purchased in advance at Queen Street Gifts & Treats, 5 Queen Street.
For additional information call 203-514-2221 or email info@StrayKatsTheatreCompany.org.)