by Clark Groome
Last week two baseball-themed plays opened a day apart. They are very different plays, but both are blessed with strong productions. They almost make you forget about the futility of the Phillies season.
Two Little League coaches with differing points of view about the purpose of their team’s activities bicker and snarl for slightly less than two hours in the Act II Playhouse production of Richard Dresser’s popular “Rounding Third.”
Don (Michael Basile) is the win-at-all-costs head coach who can’t accept an approach to and by the 12-year-old Little Leaguers that is anything but intensely focused on winning a championship, something he wasn’t able to accomplish as a kid.
Michael — not Mike or Mikey (Tony Braithwaite) — is his new assistant coach and philosophically Don’s polar opposite. Michael want the kids to win, sure, but he thinks it’s way more important to have fun, do their best and ultimately gain some self-confidence and make some friends.
The conflict between the two is predictable and not terribly original. The playwright not only focuses on the two coaches’ different philosophies but also throws in a kitchen sink-full of other issues: infidelity, family dynamics, intellectual and financial inequities, friendship and power. None is unexpected; all is somewhat contrived. When both coaches reach a middle ground it is such an obvious conclusion that nobody should be surprised.
While “Rounding Third” is a pleasant if not particularly impressive play, the Act II production that runs through Oct. 12 is what makes the evening worthwhile.
Actors Basile and Braithwaite are excellent as their characters. Their interaction was credible and impressive. When Dresser’s play is at its best, it can be quite funny and even, on occasion, moving: note particularly Michael’s begging of God to let his less-than-coordinated son catch a fly ball in a crucial game.
Director Matt Silva has done a good job keeping the piece moving, He is supported by a physical production well designed by Adam Riggar (the clever set), Jill Keys (the appropriate costumes), James Leitner (the sharp lighting) and Larry Fowler (the intricate sound).
While the play may be predictable it is often enjoyable. The Act II production is always better than that, thanks to Michael Basile and Tony Braithwaite’s big league performances.
For tickets call 215-654-0200 or visit www.act2.org
August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Fences” bares the soul of a man who resents his past and fears his future. In the play, set in 1957 Pittsburgh, we see how the events that formed the lives of Troy Maxson and his family touch a universal nerve.
Maxson’s a garbage man who had been a baseball star in the Negro Leagues but was too old to take advantage of the stardom he would have had in the majors had he been playing after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
Maxson’s bitterness causes him to prohibit his son Corey from signing a letter of intent to play college football. He fears his son will face the same problems he did, not realizing that times had, in fact, changed.
Troy’s story is one of a man who, in trying to make sense of and peace with a life by which he feels short-changed, manages to damage all of those of whom he should be most supportive and loving, pushing them away when their intimacy is just what he needs for his healing.
“Fences” is receiving a fine production through Oct. 5 at People’s Light and Theatre in Malvern. Director Kamilah Forbes has assembled a terrific cast that captures the emotional intensity of the play’s characters.
Michael Genet’s Troy is fine, although there were times when it would have been better had he toned down the anger just a notch or two. As his devoted and loyal wife Rose, Melanye Finister gives a stunning performance that’s perfectly modulated to capture the wide range of emotions that make up her strong character.
Ruffin Prentiss is a somewhat bland Corey in the early going, a blandness that disappears as the play goes on. The rest of the cast — Brian Anthony Wilson as Troy’s best friend, Wendell Franklin as his older son and G. Alvarez Reid as his brain-damaged brother — is fine. The adorable Cameron Hicks is just about perfect as the seven-year old Raynell Maxson.
James F. Pyne Jr. designed the Maxson’s Pittsburgh home. The other good designers were Michael Krass (costumes), Traci Klainer Polimeni (lighting) and Kevin DeYoe (sound).
“Fences” is not only a great play it’s an important one in the canon of one of the most significant dramatists of the 20th century. People’s Light has mounted a very strong production that kicks off their 40th season.
For tickets call 610-644-3500 or visit www.peopleslight.org.