Seattle Review: Rounding Third
Intiman Theatre opened their 2006 season on Wednesday night with a surprisingly safe venture. The company known for bold choices such as Homebody/Kabul and The Light in the Piazza has chosen to appeal to the non-theatergoer with Richard Dresser's baseball centered Rounding Third. While it is commendable that they want to draw new audiences in, the substance doesn't always match the goal. Director B.J. Jones and his talented collaborators try their best to make a mountain out of this pitiful molehill.
Though Dresser's dull text is considerably better than his book for the Broadway flop Good Vibrations, it fails to convince that anything important is being said. Rounding Third follows two little league dads as they attempt to bring their team to victory. Dresser's notes in the program give a convincing case for what he is trying to convey, but these themes are impossible to find underneath the banal banter and obvious joke set-ups.
Any crack at drama comes off as soap opera due to the playwright's tendency to embrace cliché. Jokes mocking the choice of theatre over baseball read more offensive than funny. Dresser's voice is never clearly heard. The pros and cons of sportsmanship are never fully examined. The slovenly head coach and the anal-retentive assistant also bear an uncanny resemblance to a more interesting Odd Couple. Intriguing themes on honor and integrity are lost to poor execution.
Rounding Third is a clear effort to bridge the widening gap between sport and art. In a society where the athletic is prized over the artistic, should theatre have to cater to mainstream tastes? Also, once you get a reluctant sportsman into the seat, will they be captivated or will this further cement their hatred of theatre? On opening night there was atmosphere galore in the courtyard and lobby at Intiman. A ragtime band, a hotdog stand, and displays chronicling the history of little-league teams helped to build excitement. The thrills created outside meant nothing once the actual play was discovered.
Intiman has assembled a widely talented team that does its best to add style and substance to Dresser's limp creation. Jones moves things briskly along, but can never conceal the unavoidable flaws of the disjointed material. Cheap jokes and Guiding Light moments push you out of the textured world that has been so meticulously created by all involved (sans Dresser).
The performances of Michael David Edwards and Richard Ziman give the strongest case for wanting to like Rounding Third. They often make the mediocre material soar far above its obvious limitations. Edwards is an appropriately mechanical Michael, creating a rich-portrayal of a man struggling with change and responsibility. Ziman is a slovenly delight as the intense coach Don. The pair works well together throughout to create a vibrant relationship. Still, their talents are unable to conceal the amateurish, community theatre style that Dresser favors. Edward and Ziman are also forced to interact with imaginary little-leaguers. This frequent device is a chief flaw that seems more necessary than appropriate. Dresser writes himself into corners that the cast must try to get out of. Edwards and Ziman spend most of the play swimming upstream.
Bill Forrester's set is a detailed wonder that easily captures the look and feel of a community baseball field. Greg Sullivan's realistic lighting and Joseph Swartz's layered sound add an environment that often turns the mediocre into the magnificent. The attention paid in every element (except the writing) often makes this evening absorbing.
Rounding Third is a safe choice from one of Seattle's strongest risk-takers. Even when Dresser's play is at its mundane worst, the talent involved is present and appreciated. Two marvelous performances and luscious designs are unable to conceal the contrived writing. Surely there are better baseball plays worthy of the talent wasted here. This Rounding Third proves that even the best artists in the country need a strong foundation for success.
Rounding Third runs through May 14th. For tickets call (206) 269-1900, or visit www.intiman.org
Pictured: Michael David Edwards as Michael and Richard Ziman as Don.
Photo by Chris Bennion