The title of Richard Dresser’s 2002 play, Rounding Third, the current production on board the Showboat Majestic, is a pretty obvious clue that this is a show about baseball. There’s more to it than that, but the cliché that invites you to complete it is an indicator that there’s a lot that’s predictable in this two-actor script about two very dissimilar guys who coach a Little League team through a season of baseball. Don (Mike Sherman) is hard-nosed and competitive, with a win-at-all-costs attitude. Michael (Michael Schlotterbeck) is not much of a sports guy — he’s hoping to establish a closer connection with his unathletic son — and his philosophy is that being on a team should be about fun, not strict rules and hard discipline.
They are polar opposites in every way. Don, who makes his living as a house painter, is a jock through and through, and a male chauvinist to boot. He’s egotistical and really doesn’t care to spend time listening to anyone else, especially if they disagree with him. Michael is much more tentative, a demoted office worker who’s badgered by his boss via a frequently ringing cell phone and nervous about his lack of knowledge of the game. He’s chronically late and full of excuses. He does, however, have principles, and Don’s approach to winning, which borders on unethical, seems wrong to him. It’s obvious that this oil-and-water pair will find little common ground and a lot of potential for arguing.
While Rounding Third draws most of its humor from stereotypes and clichés, it does manage to rise above total predictability when Don and Michael grudgingly begin to see things from each other’s perspectives. We learn that Don’s marriage is by no means perfect, and his son, the team’s star pitcher, has interests outside of baseball that his father cannot abide. Michael is struggling as a single parent. The initial resentment between the two men softens as they learn more about each other.
Rounding Third is certainly an odd couple concept, and Sherman and Schlotterbeck make the most of their characters, helped by Caren Young’s appropriate costuming — Don wears jeans, T-shirts and a ball cap, while Michael shows up in a tweed sport coat, white shirt and tie, later in a yellow rain slicker when inclement weather is threatening.
Sherman’s Don is loud and impatient. He expects his reputation to make him a guy to be respected and that the kids will snap to his commands. (We never see the kids on the team, but director Bob Brunner has the coaches, especially Sherman’s Don, address pep talks and advice to the audience — with appropriate pauses for expected responses.) Michael is a collection of nervous tics and apologetic explanations. There’s no question why he was always picked last when sports teams were being chosen when he was in school. But he’s more likeable than Don because he’s doing this for his son, rather than for his own ego. (In fact, he’s doing it despite his own self-confessed ineptitude.)
Each man has something to learn from the other. I’m not going to say these lessons are very profound, but playwright Dresser does provide some moments that are amusing and others that show that people who are fundamentally different can learn from one another. His ear for the ways guys, especially Dan, talk about sports is very accurate, and Michael’s challenges to Dan’s reasoning make for some good moments that ring true. Sherman and Schlotterbeck do a good job of bringing these wildly different men to life.
Nevertheless, the predictability of this story is barely enough to sustain two acts (just a little more than two hours) of interaction: It’s clear from the opening moments that they’re going to have a hard time getting along; by the second scene, we begin to get glimpses that they’ll each absorb something meaningful from their opposite’s point of view.
Richard Dresser, who has had numerous scripts produced at the renowned Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Ky., is an accomplished dramatist with a flair for everyday characters that speak like real people (and use language and topics that might put off a few audience members). I don’t think Rounding Third is Dresser’s best work, but this pleasant production entertained the opening night audience on the Showboat, mostly older folks who subscribe and come to see each show of the season whether they’ve heard of it or not.
ROUNDING THIRD, presented on board Showboat Majestic, continues through Aug. 26.