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SLO Rep's 'Rounding Third' explores fatherhood, love, and tragedy

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Baseball might be one of America's most over-used metaphors, whether we're talking love, life, or just scoring a little action. And never mind that everyone has a different idea of what those bases really mean. Still, fresh on the heels of the Los Angeles Dodgers losing the World Series, I made my way to the San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre's production of Rounding Third on opening weekend, Nov. 4.

PLAY BALL Rounding Third takes a deep dive into drastically different life and parenting philosophies when odd couple Don (Travis Mitchell) and Michael (Timothy J. Cox) get paired up to coach a little league team. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RYLO MEDIA DESIGN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Rylo Media Design
  • PLAY BALL Rounding Third takes a deep dive into drastically different life and parenting philosophies when odd couple Don (Travis Mitchell) and Michael (Timothy J. Cox) get paired up to coach a little league team.

The show is the first in SLO Repertory's (formerly known as the community theater SLO Little Theatre) inaugural season as a professional theater to employ an entire cast and director from outside of the Central Coast area. The East Coast crew is headed up by director Lawrence Lesher. A recent directing credit for Lesher includes Crimes of the Heart at Stagedoor Manor in the Catskills in New York. Locally, he also played Froggy Leseur in The Foreigner at The Great American Melodrama earlier this year. Actors Timothy J. Cox (Talk Radio at the Variations Theatre Group in New York) and Travis Mitchell (recently seen on a national tour of Rock of Ages) star as leads Michael and Don. The trio previously staged playwright Richard Dresser's (Augusta, The Pursuit of Happiness) two-man show at the Millbrook Playhouse in Pennsylvania.

These guys have theater chops, and it shows. When you go to a play that's essentially two actors talking to each other, you know it's either going to be really good or really, really bad. Luckily Rounding Third is the former. With a sparse set of a baseball green and benches (with a bar on wheels brought in for one scene), the focus is all on Cox as Michael, the assistant-coach who is a newcomer to baseball and town, and Don, the seasoned veteran little league coach who has many rules for his players that can all essentially be distilled down to: don't lose ever. So naturally when Michael wants to bring more of a just-have-fun-and-be-kids approach to the game, tension builds right away between the former baseball star and the guy who's never played.

GAME OVER Despite its propensity for comical amounts of cheesiness, Rounding Third evolves into a relatable account of two men trying to make it through life's challenges while coaching baseball. - PHOTO COURTESY OF RYLO MEDIA DESIGN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Rylo Media Design
  • GAME OVER Despite its propensity for comical amounts of cheesiness, Rounding Third evolves into a relatable account of two men trying to make it through life's challenges while coaching baseball.

But Rounding Third is not really a story about opposites hilariously being forced together and working through it to build a beautiful friendship. Instead, we're taken through some hard things with no easy answers, like allowing your son to be who he is, stepping in as dad when tragedy strikes, adultery, death, and finding one good moment of glory on the baseball field that makes it all seem worthwhile. While Mitchell's Don starts out as the absurdly aggressive alpha dad, by the show's end he's softened enough to become heartbreakingly relatable. Meanwhile Cox's version of Michael's chipper disposition hardens as he allows himself to be real and let go.

If Rounding Third were a movie, I doubt it would need a sequel. Make no mistake, problems haven't magically disappeared for either Don or Michael, but through a season of coaching in the midst of messy lives, they come out feeling better prepared to take it all on. And if that's not a home run, I don't know what it is. Δ

Arts Editor Ryah Cooley is a proud dirtbag. Go Beach! Comment at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

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