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Rounding Third, Little Fish Theatre, San Pedro, CA

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Rounding Third, written by Richard Dresser, directed Bert Pigg for Little Fish Theatre, is a good summer choice. On the surface, it's about baseball. Outside, they sold peanuts, beer and Cracker Jack (candy-coated caramel, peanuts and a prize, that's what you get in Cracker Jack), which was a nice touch, turning that black box theatre into a Cracker Jack box. Before it began, we stood and sang "The Star Spangled Banner." Pre-play music was great: Abbott and Costello's iconic "Who's On First?", of course, and, among others, songs about Willie Mays' prowess and Mickey Mantle's muscles. It's set in "a small town near a big city in the United States of America," which perfectly describes San Pedro in relationship to Los Angeles. The acting was sound, the various intrigues were, well, intriguing, and it was funny, with all the sorts of humor you'd expect from two men, Don (Brantley Black) and Michael (Garret Replogle), coaching their sons on a Little League team. The problem is, it was anti-climactic, it fizzled at the end; it didn't end because the fat lady didn't sing.

Coach Don and Assistant Coach Mike (Call me Michael!) manage the Tigers, a team on which their sons play. Black's Don is Herculean in stature and drill sergeant in management style. For him, the whole enterprise is about winning. It's not about coddling, cuddles, and positive self image. It's about striding forth into battle. For Repogle's Mike, Barney Fife-like relative to Don, it's about the experience, about meeting people, about feeling good. They mix like oil and water. From that non-mixture come all sorts of comic moments, which had the audience in stitches.

Over the course of the production come role reversals, which are both funny and touching. It turns out that Black's Don is also a sensitive guy, keeping detailed notes on each boy, on their skills as well as their family situations. He gives extra tutelage to the son whose parents are going through a nasty divorce and lets him spend the night at his place. He reacts, as to be expected, with, first anger and then bemused resignation when his son, the team's star, quits the team to act in, of all things, "Brigadoon." Repogle's Mike, gawky and anxious, obliged to take calls from a demanding boss, finally explodes when he reveals the recent death of his wife. He stands up to Don and Don shows uncharacteristic remorse.

They both undergo situations. Don learns why the prior assistant coach, his best friend, no longer coaches the team. He becomes homeless. As a sign of how dire his straits are, lets Mike coach the team in the playoffs. Mike's dates the mother whom Don thinks is flirting with him.

Ultimately, it's about how baseball is a metaphor for life. It can be about an end result -- winning (Don) -- or it can be about the journey itself (Mike). Though Black and Replogle are more than able to exploit all the quirks and idiosyncrasies of their characters, the production doesn't end satisfactorily. It's not just because their final playoff game ends like the ending stanza of "Casey at the Bat." It's because the story, though it moves along nicely, the dramatic equivalent of books to read at the beach (not too challenging), ends with an out-of-nowhere comparison of baseball to marriage. The message's delivery is so flat, so out-of-nowhere, that all the good will and humor the story delivered up to final moment becomes meaningless. Sure, baseball mirrors life ("it's not over till it's over" -- Yogi Berra). Its conflation with marriage, though, has nothing to do with it. Bummer -- candy coated popcorn and peanuts but, here, alas, there is no prize.

Performances are 8pm, Wednesday & Thursday, 8pm, Friday August 16, 8pm Saturday August 17, and 2pm Sunday August 11. The show runs until August 22. The Theatre is located at VWX. For more information call (310) 512-6030 or visit www.littlefishtheatre.org.

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