‘Rounding Third’ hits a home run at Chenango River Theatre

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

“Rounding Third,” the second production in the Chenango River Theatre’s 2011 season, hit a home run on opening night. No knowledge of baseball is required to know they’re batting 1000.
Despite 2 inches of rain, a power blackout that afternoon and a flooded parking lot, the show went on before a sell-out crowd.
“Rounding Third” is a two-man play that paired gifted actors Jack Harris and Drew Kahl in an unforgettable “odd couple” of Don and Michael. At first glance, they couldn’t have been more dissimilar – from different social classes and backgrounds, with diametrically opposed life philosophies. Blue collar versus white collar. Sports jock versus nerd. Beer-swilling boor vs. a touchy-feely tee-totaler. You get the picture.
Winning is all to Don, a house painter, who lives for baseball and coaching to spice up his otherwise empty life. He’d do whatever it takes to score. “I’d rather lose than cheat,” counters the principled Michael.
Don envisions glory for his son through baseball; he’s aghast when the boy chooses to dance in “Brigadoon” instead. “Jimmy’s gone over to the other side,” he moans. Although Don is a womanizer, he’s derailed when he learned his wife is having it on with his best friend and former assistant coach. Workaholic Michael wants to spend quality time wants his son and ensure that the boy doesn’t inherit his dad’s geekiness or be unpopular with the other kids, as he was.
As playwright Richard Dresser peels back these characters layer by layer like an onion, the audience discovers that they have one thing in common – they’re both striking out in the game of life. As they learn to look beyond superficial appearances and discover commonalities, they form a strange friendship that makes them both life’s winners.
Harris, a regular at CRT and a founding member of EXIT 18 Theatre Company in New Paltz, and Kahl, a member of the theater faculty at State University College at Oneonta, play their parts to perfection. Kahl is master of the double-take, reacting with hilarious deadpan to every obnoxious statement that his co-actor utters. Harris’ depiction of an unprincipled jerk is masterful and utterly believable. I’d eat my baseball cap if these guys aren’t really the characters they depict on stage.
Set design by Bill Lelbach (also sound designer) is clever, minimal and efficient. Lighting by Julie Duro and costume design by Barbara Kahl are first-rate. Choice of tunes broadcast on the P.A. between acts underscore the play’s messages cleverly. Refreshments and sweet guitar music by Tom Rasely in the lobby beforehand were a bonus to a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

“Rounding Third” continues Thursdays-Sundays through July 31 at the Chenango River Theatre, located at 991 State Route 12, Greene. Next production: The musical, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” billed as a romp of mistaken identity, friendship and love set at a Catskills resort in 1960, Aug. 4-21. Box office: 607-656-8499, or visit www:chenangorivertheatre.org.

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1 Response to "‘Rounding Third’ hits a home run at Chenango River Theatre"

  1. I always look forward to seeing another production at the Chenango River Theater, and I am very grateful that it exists in the area. But I have a different opinion from Lee Shepherd about its latest production, “Rounding Third,” and I’ve been brooding about it for a few days. The fact is, it left me feeling entertained but unmoved, and I wondered why.

    This play conforms to the formula in which two people — seemingly opposite from one another in every way — are thrust together into a situation, must learn to get along, eventually reveal important bits of personal information about themselves which tip the balance back and forth, and finally come to some kind of resolution. “Driving Miss Daisy” is a perfect example of this kind of story; so is “The Odd Couple.”

    But “Rounding Third” seemed, at first thought, to lack the emotional impact of those plays. I found myself waiting for those revelatory admissions to be made, instead of being engrossed in the moment. So, on second thought, I think that it was the creative team behind the production who missed some opportunities.

    Now, with all due respect, these people work very hard, for not enough money, and don’t have nearly enough time to rehearse the finer points. The amount of dialogue that the actors, Drew Kahl and Jack Harris, had to memorize was, by itself, a Herculean task –- in particular for Harris who also just appeared in “Almost Maine,” the CRT’s first production this season (sorry, I don’t know if Kahl also had a previous engagement).

    Take the portrayal by Harris of Don, the diehard Little League coach. I’ve dealt with my share of amateur community and school coaches, and I can tell you that, by and large, they are a humorless, self-promoting, insecure, abusive collection of characters. And as loud and abrasive and intolerant as Harris behaved on the stage, he was not nearly as obnoxious as he could have been. If so, then the sad circumstances that befell his character toward the end of the play would have been that much more tragic.

    Kahl faired better in his role as the mild-mannered Michael. But I suspect that he had an easier time playing someone who was probably closer in temperament to himself.

    Bill Lelbach designed a clever stage set that, as usual, made the most of the CRT’s small stage space. But at one point, a wall was removed to reveal a van, and at another point, another wall slid up to become the roof of a dugout. Now, this dugout had within it a real bit of chain link fencing with an appropriately rusty piece of pipe, and the van certainly looked every bit the part of a working man’s vehicle.

    These elements had a realism that the rest of the constructed set did not. They evoked –- in my mind anyway -– images and memories of other ball parks that I have played in and visited (I knew a coach who drove an old van and parked it on a field during every game). And had there been other details sprinkled into the mix on stage, there could have been a more telling environment for the actors to work within. For example: Some initials carved into a wooden bench; a little graffiti on a dugout wall; a half-ripped-off, torn poster still pasted on somewhere; a little grime on the outdoor scoreboard; some scuff marks left by people’s shoes on the bottom of the walls.

    Incidentally, during the intermission, between the playing of baseball-themed songs, I heard the famous “Who’s on First?” sketch by Abbott and Costello. To be honest, that routine was honed over many years and benefited from the repetition of probably a thousand performances. But in its few short minutes it managed to be stronger, funnier and more dynamic than what I saw on stage during the entirety of “Rounding Third.”

    If I had an extra million dollars, I would give it to Lelbach and his staff so that they could spend more time and energy creating the kind of theater that I know they are capable of producing.