Baseball Bathos

Laguna Playhouses Rounding Third

Photo by Ed Krieger/Laguna PlayhouseAs Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully likes to say, there are two kinds of errors in baseball: those of commission (a booted grounder, a dropped pop-up) and those of omission (failure to hit the cut-off man, forgetting to tag up on a long fly). In Rounding Third, a mostly entertaining—if thinly drawn—play about two polar-opposite male personality types who co-manage a Little League baseball team, playwright Richard Dresser makes an error of commission. It's the presence of a ham-fisted, obtrusive monologue at the play's climax. As a father watches a fly ball arcing toward his hapless, clumsy son in right field, he appeals to God for intervention. Nothing wrong with that; there are no atheists in baseball dugouts. But the father asks God to grant him this one small request because God failed to help his family out of a more serious jam a couple of years before.

The monologue is deadly—wordy, windy and dull. It derails momentum in a shower of dull sparks. But most damnably, it's emotionally manipulative, linking immeasurable heartbreak with what is a pretty innocuous event.

The monologue is so monumentally bad that it overshadows what is otherwise a likeable—though derivative—play.

Think The Odd Couplemeets The Bad News Bears.Don (a near flawless Michael Mulheren) is a tough-talking winning-is-everything type-A who coaches his youth baseball team like it's a boot camp. Michael (a well-drawn Kevin Symons) is a loafer-wearing new dad in town. He's sensitive and nurturing and wants the kids to have fun in a safe environment. It's Archie Bunker and Vince Lombardi warring with Jack Tripper and your very gay uncle. The personalities of the two men—duh—clash, and that dynamic supplies most of the humor and plot. But—double duh—by play's end, both men realize that genuine friendship might be possible.

That's about as deep as this play runs, with Dresser content to stay in Neil Simon territory—an amusing anecdote here, a good one-liner there, but no genuine exploration of who these characters are or why we should care about them. It's a missed opportunity to show grown men teaching young men about competition and winning and losing, to explore everything from fatherhood to mentoring. But outside of a couple of generic observations, Dresser doesn't seem too concerned with taking us anywhere.

It's a credit to the actors and director Andrew Barnicle that this very simple play is so palatable. Barnicle directs like a Spartan; no fireworks, special effects, bells, whistles, horns or trumpets. He trusts his actors, and this production is carried on their able backs.

But nothing short of genuine divine intervention can help that hideous monologue. Its obviousness and bathos turn a well-played, enjoyable 3-2 game at Dodger Stadium into a 17-4 Coors Field blowout.

Rounding Third at the Laguna Beach Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-ARTS. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Through Feb 2. $42-$49; $25 student rush tickets are available for many performances half an hour before curtain.

 
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