Theatre Review: ‘Rounding Third’ at Lancaster Opera House

Little league.  Two things that nearly every kid who ever took up the game of baseball must have been told at one time or another:  One: Keep your eye on the ball. Two: Keep your head in the game.

Oh sure, you can go on about learning the physical skill and technique of the game.  And maybe one kid has an arm like a cannon. Maybe another kid can hit the ball a mile.  And another has cheetah-like speed. Those things are helpful to playing the game, to be sure.  But the moment you take your eye off the ball and your head leaves the game, and let one groundball squib right between your legs, well, to borrow another word of caution from the little league fields of dreams – silly you — didn’t play the ball, you let the ball play you.  The sad result of not sticking to the two basic things.

The production as a whole keeps its eye on the ball and its head in the game.

Currently playing at the Lancaster Opera House, “Rounding Third” brings a slice of little league to the stage, when two coaches struggle to get themselves and their team through the baseball season to the championship game.   One of the coaches, Don, played by Ray Boucher, is a sort of win-at-all-costs, student of the game, looking to field the best possible team to win it all. His first-year assistant coach, Michael, played by Darryl Semira, is a newbie coach whose son has entered little league for the first time, and who believes the kids are there to have fun, learn comraderie, and all get a chance to play.

As you might suspect, the two coaching styles come to odds through the little league season.  Boucher is solid as Coach Don, who only has one rule for nearly every situation, and therefore has many rules. His character tells the kids that he will never yell at them for making a mistake, but mental errors are a different matter altogether.  Boucher gives Coach Don the right amount of stern conviction, and his character imports humor and sensibility, showing how his philosophy of baseball fits into a way to live life that you can’t help but like him, if not understand him.

Semira’s Coach Michael character knows nothing about baseball’s mechanisms or strategies for winning, and he’s not much concerned about them.   It is a game, and games should be fun. He’s there mostly to bond with his son, wants his son to make friends, and learn how to play the game. While Semira brings to the character an awkward, sort of green naiveté about the game and deference to the other coach’s experience, he also brings a conviction to his character’s own views about the joyful experience and sense of fair play that he believes should be little league baseball.   Likeable to the core.

So which coach is right?  Can a team willing to win any cost have fun and experience joy, and can a team out solely to have fun with a sense of fair play to all hope to win?  The coaches are the only two characters in this play. If you go looking for a team of little leaguers for the answer, you will have to look to yourself, or no further than the person in the seat next to you.  Boucher and Semira both speak to the audience, as if we are the little leaguers, and they do it well. And like a little leaguer, you may find yourself having a favorite coach of the two, one that speaks to you.  As the season plays out on the practice field, in the dugout, the back of Coach Don’s van and team meetings, it’s altogether possible you might surprise yourself.

There are many examples across media and entertainment where how one approaches baseball is symbolic of how one approaches the game of life.   Likewise here. The team meetings and baseball are the backdrop to how Coach Don and Coach Michael carry out the fundamentals of the game. You don’t have to be a fan, or even knowledgeable about the game of baseball to “get it.”  While the story of “Rounding Third” touches all the bases, it also leaves us purposefully and wonderfully in a space just short of home. And Boucher and Semira skillfully take us through what little league can be like for the adults, what the adult world can be like when we are thrown some rather nasty curves.  Somehow, they make us forget there is an actual game going on here and engage us into theirs.

The production is nicely done, somewhat minimally, with the set changes happening quickly and efficiently between the scenes.  The Lancaster Opera House has wonderful acoustics so even the lowest of clicks and clacks of the bat are audible and clear, and the audience’s frequent laughter must have been a pleasing sound for the actors and production crew as well.  If there was a point of wonder, it would be that the background never changed as sets did, and remained as a looming brick wall through every scene. It seems like an opportunity to add just a little more flavor was missed. But it’s hard to call that an error.  The production as a whole keeps its eye on the ball and its head in the game. Go see it, it’s little league season right now.

Running Time: 2 Hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Rounding Third runs until May 20, 2018 and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.