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Culture » Arts & Entertainment

Who’s on First

The national pastime illuminates modern maleness in Rounding Third.



Baseball probably really never was the thing about which James Earl Jones waxed nostalgic in Field of Dreams. We know now that only the discretion of the media and the obliviousness of the general public allowed the players of yesteryear to be heroes, since there were as many drunks, womanizers and racists then as there are steroid-tainted sluggers today. Yet, there are still George Wills out there who insist on reading tropes and archetypes'an ur-myth of American springtime rebirth'into this boys’ game played by men. For them, it is always the game itself, and it is always something more.


In Richard Dresser’s Rounding Third, the sport’s shifting role in our society’s male initiation rites gets turned inside out, and with a sly sense of humor. The two-character piece finds two radically different men forced to work together on a Little League team. Don (Kevin Doyle), a veteran coach, takes a no-nonsense approach to teaching his charges the fundamentals of the game. That’s a sharp contrast with his new assistant coach Michael (Michael Todd Behrens), a white-collar guy more comfortable with a cell phone in his hand than a bat. Michael wants his participation on his stepson’s team to be about everyone having fun'but for Don, “fun” can only come with “winning.nn

“Mismatched buddies” are certainly a staple of character humor, and Rounding Third generally works great simply as straight-ahead comedy. Dresser has a knack for clever dialogue, as when Don clarifies his belief about friends being comfortable in mutual silence with the assertion that “not talking to a woman is different than not talking to a normal person.” It’s a slick piece of writing'with the sunny sensibility of a slightly edgier Neil Simon'that satisfies on a purely superficial level.


But not only on a superficial level. Dresser grounds his gags in two characters both fumbling with their concept of what a husband, father and red-blooded American man should be. Don easily could have been played as a blustering jerk, but Kevin Doyle finds a gentler side of an average guy whose persistent protestations of “I don’t judge” and his concern for his players’ personal lives hint at his efforts not to be a complete caveman. The ineffectual-feeling Michael, meanwhile, uses his experience to find a competitive fire within himself. For both men, the game is a backdrop for moving from an unacceptable extreme toward a modern manhood where self-confidence needs to walk arm-in-arm with compassion.


Director Larry West’s production succeeds at keeping the emphasis on the characters’ journeys. He makes a couple of risky choices, such as when he stages an emotional moment for Michael with Behrens’ back to the audience. It seems initially like a curious intentional upstaging, but ultimately feels like a savvy representation of his evolving emotionalism. Keven Myhre’s spare set design employs chain-link backstops and a single bench effectively; there’s a terrific moment in Cynthia Kehr-Rees’ sound design that gives one of Don’s practice speeches in a gymnasium a perfect tinny echo. And if you come early enough to catch the baseball-themed pre-show soundtrack, you’ll get a chance to realize that Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine is somehow still hilarious.


That classic bit, of course, hails from an era when baseball was still one of the primary touchstones between men'and maybe part of its enduring appeal comes from the idea that if two guys can’t appreciate baseball together, they can’t appreciate much else together. Rounding Third finds warmth and humor in two men whose only hope at finding common ground involves playing with a ball together. Dresser refuses to romanticize the game, but he seems to have a keen sense of its function as a language'maybe a dying language.


nSalt Lake Acting Company
n168 W. 500 North
nThrough April 22