By Robert W. Bethune, guest critic
Williamston Theatre, 122 S. Putnam, Williamston. Thursday to Sunday, through Nov. 12. Tickets: $18-$22. For information: (517) 655-7469 or http://www.williamstontheatre.org
I wish I knew all the great plays about baseball: “Damn Yankees,” “That Championship Season,” “Bleacher Bums.” I’m sure there are dozens more. “Rounding Third” at the Williamston Theatre is a good addition to the genre. It’s also part of another American theatrical tradition: the two-character play. It would be fascinating to put together an anthology of the American two-character play. As theaters have gotten smaller and production more expensive, from “The Gin Game” to “A Walk In The Woods,” two-character plays have tackled just about every aspect of American life and culture. So here we have the two-character play about baseball, and a very funny one to boot, but with plenty of heart and plenty of excellent acting.
The play is built around the Mutt and Jeff pairing of John Lepard as Don, a washed-up pitcher surviving as a plumber who lives to coach Little League, and Tobin Hissong as Michael, an office worker who knows nothing of baseball, but has some experience with curling, who has a son who needs a good experience. Lepard not only has the right build for a pitcher, those of us who remember Jack Morris will not miss the resemblance.
Michael plays straight man to Don throughout. Don’s mastery of pitching is even more verbal than physical. He has incredible movement on his verbal fastball; he ties Michael in knots at will. He is a master of the emotional double switch, yanking the ground out from under Michael and spinning him around so that everything Michael demands from Don becomes an obligation owed to Don.
However, life has a major curve to throw at Don. More on that would be a spoiler.
Some plays can be too professional for their own good. If it were not for the darkly convoluted character of Don keeping us off balance, the play would be predictable from the first line. It is a play about baseball, one of the great rituals of American life, and all of the ritual observances that we expect are made: the hapless right fielder who finally makes a fine catch, the hapless team that almost wins a championship; the hapless coach who manages to learn enough about baseball to bring the team along; the has-been player who finds a way to make a contribution. To his credit, Richard Dresser’s play and Tony Caselli’s direction make no attempt to disguise the pitch. Here it is, right down the center of the plate, hit it. Michael even asks God to let his boy make this one catch, and God does, just like that. Though it tosses soft stuff in places, the spikes, twists and turns that help pitcher Don keep lots of movement in the curve balls he throws at assistant coach Michael make up for a play that tends to telegraph the next pitch.