note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
In the past few months, I’ve seen three of TV-stage writer Richard Dresser’s plays in distinctly different venues, and the more I see, the more I like. Dresser, a former Holden, Mass. resident and ardent baseball lover who lives in New York, has a breezy,comical, homespun flair, blessed with Boston overtones and a keen understanding of human nature.
In the world premiere of “The Last Days of Mickey and Jean,” which Merrimack Repertory Theatre of Lowell commissioned Dresser to write and was performed there in March and April, Dresser subtly fingers retired Southie gangster Whitey Bulger and his girlfriend on the lam. Dresser scored high with the audience then; and he’s still receiving accolades for his touching musical play about the Red Sox and their 84-year curse, “Johnny Baseball,” that’s a must-see at American Repertory Theatre in Harvard Square, Cambridge.
The prolific playwright is also scoring high-fives and home runs with his poignant, two-man, two-act play, “Rounding Third,” at the intimate new Salem Theatre Company location, 90 Lafayette St., Salem, appearing now through July 11. The play, which opened in Chicago in 2002, has captured the eye and endorsement of Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, former Chelsea official, and it’s easy to see why. Although I attended preview night last week, the cast and crew delivered a poignant performance that required no tweaks. Besides giving us a bird’s-eye view of two contrasting Little League coaches in their first season together, this production, in its cozy, comfortable site, enables the two actors to address the audience, as their team. We become an integral part of the show without directly involving our response.
“Rounding Third” is an enjoyable night out that appeals to parents, grandparents, former Little League players and coaches, and families in general, starring Brian Casey of Salem as Don, veteran Little League head coach, and Kevin Walker of Marblehead as Michael, Don’s new, idealistic assistant coach. Under the taut direction of Artistic Director John Fogle, the duo plays off each other with perfect timing. Don tosses jabs and jibes at Michael, who patiently ducks, but later hurls a few curve balls of his own. Michael is a college-educated businessman; Don is a house painter, who resents Michael’s cultured attitude and idealism.
We’ve all met these characters. Don is a big man on the kids’ baseball diamond, but a coarse diamond in the rough socially and educationally. His son Jimmy is the best player on the team. Michael’s son, Frankie, is on Don’s “kids to avoid” list for drafting because of his lack of ballplaying skills.
From the outset, Don is easily irritated with Michael, who comes bouncing onto the field for the first time - late - shyly revealing he’s a newcomer at the game, and that his boyhood sport was curling in Canada, which Don mocks. Michael wants the boys to enjoy playing ball, for the fun of it. Don insists on winning - they’ll enjoy much more that way, he says. The two maneuver easily around Bruce Greenwald’s clever set, with its chainlink fence on the sides and a centrally-placed bench that converts into Don’s front seat of his van when the stage crew rotates it. Jean Fogle adds atmosphere with Little League props,and her costumes tip the audience off to this duo’s contrasting personalities. Ryan Robbins cleverly creates realistic rainstorms and background noises with his light and sound designs.
During the play, Don and Michael also reveal through their sideline conversations some personal information that changes their attitudes toward each other - and ours. “Rounding Third” is a delightful romp through Little League, where men may come, and men may go, but some things never change. Play ball!
BOX INFO: Two-act comedy, written by Richard Dresser, appearing through July 11 at Salem Theatre Company, 90 Lafayette St., Salem. Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m; no performance July 4. Wednesday, June 30, pre-performance benefit cocktail celebration, 5-7 p.m. at Capt’s. Waterfront Grille and Pub, 94 Wharf St., Salem, ($20, or $15 for those with theater reservations; benefits the theater and the Boys and Girls Club of Salem); also Thursday, July 1, post-performance talkback with actors and director. Tickets are $20; students, seniors, $15. Visit www.salemtheatre.co/tickets, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 978-790-8546.