Rounding the bases

While it doesn’t quite hit it out of the ball park, Central Alberta Theatre’s season-opening baseball comedy Rounding Third is a solid triple. The entertaining play that opened on Thursday night at the Nickle Studio, upstairs at the Memorial Centre, packs a lot of true-to-life moments as two Little League baseball coaches battle it out over how to deal with young players.

While it doesn’t quite hit it out of the ball park, Central Alberta Theatre’s season-opening baseball comedy Rounding Third is a solid triple.

The entertaining play that opened on Thursday night at the Nickle Studio, upstairs at the Memorial Centre, packs a lot of true-to-life moments as two Little League baseball coaches battle it out over how to deal with young players.

Don, played by Perry Mill, is a tough, old-school coach, with a suck-it-up, winner-take-all attitude.

His assistant coach Michael (Craig Scott), is a baseball newbie, who’s only helping with the team to better bond with his 12-year-old son. Michael’s a well-meaning softie who thinks players should be able to play whatever positions they want as long as everybody has fun — an attitude that really rankles Don’s competitive spirit.

Generous helpings of comedy were pitched throughout this smartly-written, odd-couple script by Richard Dresser. And the two-actor cast managed plenty of hits by combining the right comic tone and timing.

There’s also a riveting, emotion-packed monologue delivered out of left field by Scott. It’s guaranteed to make everyone silently root for all the chubby, ham-fisted, or double-left-footed youngsters, who only need one good break to redeem their lacklustre performances on the sports field.

But the considerable positives in Rounding Third were offset by low-energy moments in Thursday’s production. Too-long set or costume changes between the multiple short scenes also dragged down momentum. (Whether shirts or seats were exchanged wasn’t as important as keeping the short, snappy action bits moving along. As the umpire says: ‘Let’s play ball!’)

On the winning side of the scorecard, pacing within each scene was well handled by the relatively inexperienced directors, Bob and Geanette Grieg, who also did a fine job of helping the two actors achieve dimensional portrayals.

Neither Don nor Michael came across as caricatures. Both were recognizable as real people everyone has known at some time or other, and this helped carry the two-hour play’s plot through an entire baseball season.

Mills depicted Don as an egocentric who somehow managed to be likable, despite blackballing weaker players and spouting such lines about his sex appeal as: “If I were single, there’d be nothing but shock and awe.”

From the moment Don meets ‘Mike,’ (who insists on being called Michael) he senses they will not be a good fit. Don takes a dead-serious approach to Little League, and feels assistant coaching should get the same intense focus as one’s job or marriage — only to later find himself mired in his own family difficulties.

While Mills played a credible tough guy, he could go further and bigger with his portrayal (think Don Cherry’s blustery, overblown personality). The play’s energy level would then rocket into the stands, and Don’s aggressive, windbaggy outbursts would stand in welcome contrast to Michael’s unassertive blandness.

Scott, a CAT regular, is starting to get typecast in Michael-like roles, but shows his acting range and potential in the show-stopper of a monologue his character directs to a higher power.

His assistant coach is played as a rational but not overly dynamic Dad, a non-athletic office pencil-pusher, who’s bullied by cellphone by his boss.

Michael clearly cares about his young players when he spouts lines like “we’re all winners if we do our best,” and “coaches should create a safe and nurturing environment where kids can dare to be great.”

But it’s no wonder Don shoots back with: “That’s not what I’d want to be yelling from the bench!”

You don’t need to know or care about baseball to enjoy this metaphor-for-life comedy. Anyone who’s raised kids, played sports as a kid, or was picked last in gym class will glean something from Rounding Third. It’s certainly worth a trip to the Nickle Studio ball park.

The play runs to Oct. 19.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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