Oct. 7 2015 11:18 AM

Williamston Theatre scores with encore of 'Rounding Third'

WT Rounding Third Press2
Coach Don (John Lepard, left) and Assistant Coach Michael (Tobin Hissong) in "Rounding Third" by Richard Dresser at Williamston Theatre.
Photo by Chris Purchis
Williamston Theatre leads off its 10th season with an encore production of its very first show, “Rounding Third.” It’s the perfect choice to celebrate 10 years because it exemplifies Williamston’s mission. The acting and production values are top notch and the story is Midwest-centric and broadly accessible but also more complex than it first appears. It’s also a fantastic example of why Williamston Theatre will likely be around for another 10 years.

John Lepard and Tobin Hissong star as Little League coaches Don and Michael, respectively. Don’s a seasoned veteran who values winning above all else. Michael is the new assistant coach whose sports background includes curling in Canada with a win/loss record he can’t recall. As the season progresses, Don and Michael must learn to resolve their competing philosophies regarding sportsmanship as well as life in general.

Playing against type, Lepard dons a thin mustache and blue collar machismo to offset his easy charisma and guy-next-door features. At the start of the show, Don comes off as a small-town Donald Trump, a street smart, self-made man who “drafts” the best players to help his team win and weeds out “the ones you’d rather avoid.” He’s coarse and homophobic but honest and extremely disciplined. When Don’s son, the team’s star pitcher, quits the team and joins the cast for the school musical “Brigadoon”, John’s world is upended.

“Jimmy’s gone over to the other side,” says John, speaking as if Jimmy had died.

Lepard revels in the most despicable aspects of his character, from flirting with the young player’s mothers (and keeping secrets from his wife) to teaching his players how to bend the rules of the game to their advantage. But Don isn’t evil, he just has a hard time with change.

Don also has a problem with tardiness and is irked the poor example set by his new assistant coach, Michael. Like Ned Flanders to Homer Simpson, Michael is Don’s whitecollar nightmare who “can’t wait to roll up the old sleeve-a-roonies.” Hissong brings the perfect balance of niceness and annoying naiveté. Michael means well and his story is more complicated than he first lets on, but his real problem — according to Don — is his lack of commitment to the game.

The magic moments occur in the first quarter, where Don and Michael build their animosities, and in the last quarter as they resolve their differences. Lepard and Hissong spar against each other with tight comic timing but also find ways to create rapport with their invisible student players. By the end of the show, you’ll probably remember at least half of the team’s names.

Set designer Amber Marisa Cook and prop designer Michelle Raymond designed a baseball fan’s dream. Decked out with a score board, posters and baseball gear and outfitted with a stylish wall mounted car bumper, the set could function as an exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame or the stylish den of a devoted fan.

Sound designer Jason Painter-Price and lighting designer Shannon Schweitzer add the finishing touches, bringing the sights and sounds of the imaginary Little League games to life. From the clinks of an aluminum bat to a collection of ambient game noise, the precisely timed technical elements allow Williamston’s tiny show to feel so much larger.

“Rounding Third"

Williamston Theatre Through Nov.1 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday Tickets start at $23/$10 students/$2 discount seniors and military Williamston Theatre 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston (517) 655-7469, williamstontheatre.org.

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