Regional Reviews: New Jersey
A Very Funny Rounding Third
As noted in my review of an earlier production, it begins with a pre-season meeting of veteran Little League coach Don (Eli Ganias) with his newly assigned assistant coach Michael (Andrew Rein). Don, who is a house painter, places great emphasis on winning. Michael, seemingly a college educated, successful business type, believes that a happy experience for the children is most important.
Michael (who appears to be a stand-in for author Richard Dresser) comes to appreciate Don's dedication, coaching skills and concern for the youngsters on his team. He even comes to understand the importance of playing to win. Don remains decidedly unappreciative of Michael, despite Michael's efforts to provide him with help during the dissolution of Don's marriage.
Many of the scenes occur at the Little League field, and Ganias and Rein often speak across the footlights directly to the space which the audience shares with unseen Little Leaguers.
While the play itself is engaging, it would have more substance if author Dresser had more fully engaged issues only lightly touched upon. One such issue is the reprehensible behavior of Don who uses his son Jimmy (the team's star pitcher) to scout out his fellow schoolmates so that he may select the best players for his team and blackball those who are poor athletes. The negative implications of the unequal competition that he is attempting to achieve are self evident. Don's treatment of Jimmy when he quits baseball in order to appear in the school's production of Brigadoon is played for laughs, and it is not even considered that this probably tells us a lot about the quality of their relationship.
Andrew Rein is a very funny and likeable Michael. By portraying Michael in an easygoing and affable manner, Rein maximizes the humorous aspects of the play. Not taken seriously in the text or performance is the overbearing aggressiveness with which he undermines Don's handling of their Little League team without even first observing the group's dynamic. As we later find out, Michael is faring poorly on his job. He traces this to the time spent away because of his wife's illness and death. Maybe only a critic would wonder if the real reason wasn't a tendency to run roughshod over others. Eli Ganias is effective and amusing as Don, the sitcom working stiff with his life overly wrapped up with his Little League team. I do doubt that Don would give up the one thing in life that gives him a sense of pride and accomplishment because of the dissolution of his marriage (no matter the circumstances).
Where both actors and their director Duncan M. Rogers truly excel is in the rhythm of the comic timing that runs through the entire play. After all, death, infidelity, divorce and even chicanery and psychological child abuse are the stuff of innocuous comedy here. A joke involving the destruction of a cell phone with a baseball bat is a perfect example of Dresser undermining a dramatic point in order to toss in a bad joke. While Rounding Third can be more ultimately moving, this is the funniest production of it that I have seen.
The Bickford Theatre Rounding Third is very funny and entertaining. It seems safe to say that for adults it provides more laughs (and less raunch) than can be found in any of the sports comedies which have flooded the multiplexes in recent seasons.
Rounding Third continues performances (Thurs.-Sat. 8 pm; Sun. 2 pm) through April 20, 2008 at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road (off Columbia Turnpike) Morristown, NJ, 07960. Box Office: 973-971-3706; online: www.bickfordtheatre.org.
Rounding Third by Richard Dresser, directed by Duncan M. Rogers