HT Review: Rounding Third
Baseball season has arrived at Cardinal Stage
By Connie Shakalis
January 25, 2019
The next day.
That’s when I know how a play has hit me, and Cardinal Stage’s “Rounding Third” hit a homer. I’m still laughing (the man next to me barely stopped laughing) and I’m still wincing at the foibles of the play’s two characters, for in both of them I recognize myself. In the old “Odd Couple” style, which many plays and novels have used, playwright Richard Dresser, here, gives us baseball coaching as a metaphor. Yes, we get the upstanding company man (Jay Hemphill) juxtaposed with the blue-jean-clad house painter (John Armstrong), and we get more.
Dresser teaches us some facts about how to manage a fly ball but also about how we escape our disappointments by submerging ourselves in diversions, in this case, coaching children’s sports.
Each character, both coaching the same team, hides secrets from the other and disdains the other for what appears to be his better life. The grass of course is always lusher on the opposite side of the outfield. Armstrong’s “Coach Don, never Donald” contrasts lusciously with Hemphill’s assistant coach “Michael, please, not Mike or Mikey,” and these two Bloomington actors, the play’s only performers, seem to have been made for one another.
Not only did I feel as though I had been to an actual Little League game after Thursday’s show, I felt as if I had gotten to know Don and Michael personally. I relished both.
Don’s (unseen) son, Jimmy, is the team’s best player but ends up choosing a different hobby, a blow to his macho dad, whose marriage, it turns out, is flaking apart. Meanwhile Michael, courteous and sensitive, manages his own marital problems, which he reluctantly divulges during one of the men’s many violent tete-a-tetes. Dresser knows how to make the sad very funny, a rare skill.
Michael, too, has a son on the team, a son who according to Don can’t hit, run, catch or understand baseball. And, of course, he is the son who wants to stay on the team. Ah, life.
“Rounding Third” is an insightful microcosm. Michaels’ cellphone incessantly interrupts his life; Don assumes Michael thinks he “stupid” because he didn’t go to college; and, disobeying his own premise “I think those kids need to have FUN,” Michael blurts, “It’s all about competition!” Ain’t it though.
Scenic designer Erin Gautille’s astonishingly simple sets are a highlight. She uses the theater’s actual brick wall to realistic effect, and a chainlink fence, merely shoved from stage right to left, somehow changed the whole feel between scenes. (One of which involves Don now living in his van in a parking lot.) Gautille’s cellphone for Michael also intrigued me; it seemed to ring exactly on cue every time — from his pocket.
Matthew Decker directed this feel-good, see-it-soon Cardinal success.
It’s for the audience to decide: Will Michael and Don be friends or passing ships? We’ve all been there.The answer comes at the finale.