Story: Don, meet Michael. Michael, meet Don. To an outsider, these two men seem like polar opposites. Don wants to win at all costs, while Michael -- and he prefers ‘Michael’ to ‘Mike’ or especially ‘Mikey’ – just desires the experience to be worthwhile. The experience in point here is a Little League baseball team managed by Don -- and don’t call him ‘Donald’ – for several years.
With his best buddy and assistant coach Tony B. now moved on, Don accepts the request of newcomer Michael to help him lead the boys to new glories. That is, of course, if Don and Michael can ever agree on what defines glory. Don, a housepainter by trade, admits that he spends “55 percent” of his waking time thinking about the team, while Michael is incessantly plagued by phone calls from his demanding and much younger boss. Can the two of them form an allegiance for the common good of the youngsters and combine sports with sportsmanship?
Highlights: Richard Dresser’s two-act comedy is a joy to behold when performed by actors as talented and appealing as Steve Isom and Christopher Lawyer. They mesh as smoothly together as much as their characters seem to be allergic to each other, with impeccable timing, subtle gradations in their roles and seamless adjustments between scenes both on and off the field.
They exchange philosophies and outlooks even as they trade pointed barbs that reveal their own vulnerable psyches. It’s all flawlessly developed under the painstaking care of director Sarah Armstrong, who with Dresser has sympathy for both of these searching souls and keeps the running time briskly within a viewer’s attention span.
Other Info: Isom and Lawyer carefully develop characters which could be caricatures in the hands of less seasoned professionals. As a result, while Isom’s Don lumbers through his macho definition of a manager who treats Little League like Major League Baseball, with scouting reports from his son and abhorrence of “mental errors,” he also shows a surprising ability to evolve with the circumstances.
So, too, does Lawyer, whose Michael proves to be much more a survivor than Don’s first impression would indicate. While the two of them routinely square off in verbal confrontation, they artfully reveal inner layers that peel away in surprising and humorous fashion.
When Michael explains his tardiness to a practice by saying he was “putting out a fire,” Don stone-facedly replies, “Was it a real fire?” Don has rules, by gum, whether it’s being punctual or saving impressionable lads from being swayed to the dark side and appearing in a school performance of Brigadoon.
As we learn more about these men, their wives, their sons and their work, we better understand their passions and desires not only for their kids but for themselves as well. Dresser’s witty and precise dialogue keeps his two characters interesting and his plot devices find the outfield gaps often enough to offer a surprise or two en route to home plate.
Sean Savoie’s scenic design is a model of ‘less is more,’ with a pair of chain link fences representing the dividing line between the bleachers and the field, along with a bench that can seat the lads or represent a car seat for the men. JC Krajicek’s costumes match the gruff Don and the more urbane Michael down to their choice of shoes, while Meg Brinkley provides an amusing selection of props, including home-made snacks for the boys courtesy of Don’s wife.
Alan Chlebowski’s lighting seems suitable to any parent who’s ever coached a kids’ team, and Rusty Wandall’s sound design affectionately offers observations on the Grand Old Game by the likes of John Fogarty and Bruce Springsteen.
‘Play ball!’ is as much a mantra for life for fans of all ages as it is for the players who match their skills inside the foul lines. In Dresser’s witty tribute, with its fast-ball one-liners and clever plot curves, whether one wins or loses is seamlessly interwoven into how the game is played.
Play: Rounding Third
Group: HotCity Theatre
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand
Dates: May 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 289-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Todd Studios