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In a Little League of their own

Two kids' coaches tackle America's favorite pastime, suburbia and the male psyche in the top-notch 'Rounding Third.'

June 09, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Don, the veteran Little League coach, preaches the gospel of winning: "Winning is fun, losing stinks. I hope that's not new information." He spends his days dreaming of baseball, sex, money and revenge fantasies -- in other words, he's the average American male.

Michael, the rookie assistant coach, knows more about the sport of curling than baseball. He believes the Little Leaguers should have fun and leave the field smiling, win or lose. And he spent part of his childhood in Canada (which prompts a "sorry to hear that" from Don).

The comic clash between Don and Michael is the center of "Rounding Third," a right-on production of playwright Richard Dresser's story of baseball, suburbia and the male psyche that opened this weekend on the Cassius Carter Centre Stage at the Old Globe Theatre complex.

As a mismatched couple, Don and Michael are in a league with Oscar and Felix. Don bellows; Michael encourages softly. Don says that one perk of the job is scoring with some of the players' mothers; Michael finds that sleazy. Don devises a big-game strategy that pushes the envelope of honesty; Michael is appalled.

The result is two hours of humor, with a dash of poignancy as Don and Michael reveal their individual domestic difficulties and disappointments.

Tom McGowan is top-notch as Don: funny, boorish, unrepentantly sexist, definitely not politically correct. A veteran stage and screen actor best known as the radio station manager in TV's "Frasier," McGowan plays Don as a blustery everyman, still boiling over losses and slights of years ago.

Don explains to Michael the trick of making sure you don't draft the wrong kids for your team: "The ones you avoid are the ones who would rather be in 'Brigadoon,' you know what I mean?" Later he explains the agony of getting the silent treatment from his wife: "Not talking to a woman is different than not talking to a normal person."

Don's son is the star pitcher. Michael's son is a hapless right-fielder. "What we saw today in right field is a whole salad bar of mental errors," roars Don.

Jeffrey Hutchinson is the perfect foil as Michael, trying desperately to do some bonding with his wife's son by a previous marriage. He suffers Don's abuse but then starts to fight back, slyly.

Hutchinson's Michael has his own demons, chiefly a relentless boss who calls him constantly on his cell phone. The denouement of that cell phone is a high point.

Directed by David Petrarca, "Rounding Third" is brisk and snappy. No long windups allowed.

The players and the coaches' wives are never seen, but their presence is everywhere. "These kids," Michael opines at season's end, "they're strange and inscrutable beasts." Now there's a truth that any parent can confirm.

One demur: Is there any reason a reference to the San Diego Padres couldn't have been worked into the production? Michael wears a uniform that looks like the Orioles'. Why not a Padre uniform or at least a cap? Otherwise, what's the benefit of living in the city with the worst team in major league baseball?

But such is a minor error in an otherwise near-perfect game that tells us a lot about modern life and that 19th century sport played on a diamond. But as Don puts it, "Hey, let's not get emotional here: We're not women."


'Rounding Third'

Where: Cassius Carter Centre Stage, Old Globe Theatre complex, Balboa Park, San Diego

When: Tuesday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

Ends: July 13

Price: $19-$50. Discounts for students, seniors, active-duty military

Contact: (619) 239-2255

Running Time: One hour, 45 minutes

Tom McGowan...Don

Jeffrey Hutchinson...Michael

By Richard Dresser. Directed by David Petrarca. Lighting by David Cuthbert. Sound by Ron Milburn. Sets by Robin Roberts. Costumes by Lewis Brown.

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