By Richard Dresser
Directed by John Rando
Starring Matthew Arkin and Robert Clohessy
The John Houseman Theatre /450 West 52nd Street / (212) 239-6200

Reviewed by David Spencer

Rare are the two-character plays that can really transcend the limitations and patterns of being stuck with the same pair of people all evening, but Richard Dresser’s latest, "Rounding Third" happens to be one that does–and manages to have the makings of a gratifying sleeper hit besides.

It follows the simplest possible arc. Michael (Matthew Arkin), a devoted stepfather gets a gig as assistant coach to a Little League team, the better to share activities with his not-naturally-athletic son. Michael, a white collar guy, is of a fairly liberal, we-all-win, it should be fun disposition. The head coach, Don (Robert Clohessy), however, is a blue-collar, hard-line guy, for whom fun equates directly with winning, and the baseball field’s inequities are the best preparation for the unfairness of life after school’s out.

As the season wears on and the relationship develops these two opposite types find more common ground than they ever suspected they had. Of course. Because that is the inevitable path such a play must take.

But as scripted by Mr. Dresser, there are other surprises too. Primary among them that these two characters don’t default to the rules of their archetypes. Don is not hard-line without reason or heart; and Michael’s liberalism is occasionally an impediment. By the same token, Don can indeed be an insensitive clod (but the backstory is intriguing), and Michael has more strength and spine than he shows on the surface. These guys are as richly drawn as Neil Simon’s "Odd Couple" and have the potential to create a similar iconography–in the theatre and, dare I say it, in being developed for television. They make for a strikingly memorable duo and have enough juice in them for many stories. As for the current story: Dresser carefully and cannily keeps the locale to the ballpark and immediate environs–so they learn about each other only on the job…and only in the one locale they would ever have in common.

As rewarding is the way they’re played–or maybe it’s as simple as the way they’re cast. Matthew Arkin and Robert Clohessy don’t just play these guys, they seem to embody the very essence of them. Of course, having an assured comedy hand like that of director John Rando is hardly a liability.

For those not much into sports…not to worry. "Rounding Third" loves its baseball details and milieu to be sure, but it’s a first and foremost a very human comedy with universal resonance. And–I know I can’t possibly be the first to say so, but you just can’t avoid the sentiment–it hits a home run…


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