Also see Richard's review of The New Century
But, on opening night, I kept thanking God that Steve Isom never went into broad comic shtick as the old-school baseball coach; though a lesser actor probably will, somewhere in this country, sooner or later. (I should also thank director Sarah Armstrong, too, for keeping it real.) And, somehow, Christopher Lawyer, as his junior partner, manages to stay fresh faced and surprising as the newly transplanted Canadianimmersed in the cult that is the Great American Pastime.
They team up for a wonderful, dour, hopeful and hopeless look at how boys are turned into men, and men into ... whatever we turn into, after life has kicked us in the ass a few hundred times. But the characters never get more than a nanosecond to languish in self-pity, or sadness, as the comedy rolls in like a steady series of waves. Mr. Isom (as Don, the head coach) is perpetually astonished at Mr. Christian's wide-eyed naiveté and his "winning isn't important" spiel for the kids. And Mr. Lawyer's assistant coach (Michael) ends up revealing some pretty stunning emotional terrain of his own.
It's hard to talk about a character comedy like this, about an "odd couple" show, without divulging a lot of plot along the way, and ruining the jokes. But if you happen to come in a few minutes late, if you didn't get parked on Lindell Blvd. before 7:30 or chose not to pay $10 to park behind the Fox Theatre, you'll miss a very good little scene where the two men first meet. Don is interviewing possible assistants, and mistakes Michael as the father of another kid. And so the relationship begins.
It's not long before we see that ruin runs the hot-box, back and forth: first as one man's life seems to lie in smoldering wreckage, and then the other's. Yet the comedy is so skillfully interwoven in the story that the two personalities are always smashing up against each other, for our amusement, even when either one of their lives is circling the drain.
It almost seems set to music, in the way that all sports is somehow balletic in nature, especially in Mr. Isom's "Macarena" warm-up dance, and his elaborate signals to the hitters. He's fully in charge, not just of the little league (and some of the lonely moms), but of the stage as well.
Through May 26, 2012, at the Kranzberg Center for the Arts, 501 N. Grand, a block south of the Fox Theatre. For more information call (314) 289-4063 or visit them online at www.hotcitytheatre.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association, the association of professional actors and stage managers in the USA