It’s a daunting task for any small theatre company trying to stay afloat in our parched cultural oasis to choose a season that will be innovative and fresh while offering themes universal enough to attract an audience. For those of us whose knowledge of America’s pastime is that baseballs are round and the sticks that connect with them are long cylinders made of wood, be forewarned that Rounding Third, a production transplanted to the Colony from Laguna Playhouse, takes place on a nearly bare outfield set, featuring a pair of rather unoriginal adversarial characters whose world revolves around coaching an unseen little league team.
Well, hold me down and buy me some peanuts and crackerjack, because this one is a surprising homerun. Its accessibility is largely due to Richard Dresser’s ability to make his stereotypical sports-driven suburban dads real despite their clichéd responses to the things that happen while working together to lead their kiddies to victory, but surely without the accomplished participation of director Andrew Barnicle and his golden two-person cast, this might easily be lost.
Dresser’s predictable tale could instead become a midwestern dinner theatre Odd Couple in sweatpants and baseball caps, but under Barnicle’s gentle guidance, Jerry Kernion and Kevin Symonds as the diametrically different small-town coaches bounce off one another with consummate skill. Kernion’s loud and abrasive ball-scratcher Don could wear out an audience quickly were it not for the layers of vulnerability and pathos the actor finds lurking just under the crusty surface and, as his soft-spoken new assistant coach Michael, Symonds balances his larger-than-life costar with exquisite restraint and simplicity.
One of the most interesting side effects of producing a play about baseball to an audience peppered largely by loyal older subscribers is, for once, during Rounding Third the wives are the ones nodding out in the first 20 minutes rather than those bored spouses they’ve been dragging along all these years.
Rounding Third plays through May 13 at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank; for tickets, call (818) 558-7000.