Playwright Richard Dresser pits Little League Coach Don (“Winning is everything”) against Assistant Coach Michael (“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”) in his hilarious two-hander Rounding Third, now being given a crowd-pleasing intimate-stage production at San Pedro’s Little Fish Theatre.

970899_10151532541676373_1958692683_n Sparks fly from this Odd Couple’s first meeting at a local bar. Stiff-shirted Michael (Garret Replogle) asks to be called by his full name. Macho Man Don (Brantley Black) calls him Mike or worse still Mikey. Don informs Michael, “People who go out of their houses tend to know who I am.” Michael had never heard of Don before volunteering to assist him in coaching their sons’ Little League team. Don makes fun of the hyphenated last name of one of the boys on his list of “kids we do not want on our team.” The boy turns out to be Michael’s son. Don wants Michael to “take a night” before signing on officially, since “if this isn’t as serious a commitment as the one you’d make to your job or marriage, I would respectively suggest that you bow out.” Michael says his mind is already made up.

Clearly the Little League season ahead is going to be a bumpy ride.

Coach Don’s pep talks to his team (and occasionally Assistant Coach Michael’s) alternate with scenes between the two men, and anyone who doubts that Coach and Assistant Coach will evolve and grow and eventually bond from their partnership has clearly never seen Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, or any of the myriad similarly-themed plays and movies before or after, of which Rounding Third is one of the best.

Under Bert Pigg’s direction, Black and Replogle give rich, colorful performances, if at times a tad broad for as intimate a space as Little Fish, where there’s no need to play to the balcony. Similarly, shtick like wincing from a handshake or struggling with a duffle bag clearly not jam-packed with weighty baseball gear could be brought down a notch or two.

Still, there’s no denying the talent of both actors. Don’s bravado masks a character undergoing considerable inner turmoil, which Black plays with touching honesty. Replogle too exhibits a good deal of depth beneath Michael’s prim and proper exterior, and his eleventh-hour monolog is as exquisite a bit of acting as you’ll see on any stage.

Master scenic designer Chris Beyries has adapted his set for the concurrently running The Kitchen Witches to create a nicely-rendered Little League dugout as backdrop to Rounding Third’s otherwise mostly empty blackbox stage, save a bench or table and chairs. Darrell Clark’s expert lighting and David Graham’s tiptop sound design (plenty of baseball-themed songs and bat-and-ball sound effects) are terrific too, as are stage manager Teresa Stirewalt’s props (save an insufficient number of baseball paraphernalia to jam-pack the abovementioned duffel bag). Rounding Third is produced by Stephanie Coltrin.

You don’t have to be a Little League parent or even a baseball fan to fall in love with Rounding Third. And trust me, if you don’t recognize someone you know as either a Michael or a Don, then you haven’t met many people in your life. Heck, you might even recognize yourself. (I did.)

Little Fish Theatre, 777 Centre St. San Pedro.

–Steven Stanley
August 7, 2013

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