Depending on your disposition, there's something about the smell of a freshly cut outfield or the sound of a bat connecting with a fastball that either inspires awe or dread.
The peculiar American institution known as Little League, with its daydreaming right-fielders, overbearing parents and temperamental coaches, comes in for a smart critique in Richard Dresser's charming two-hander "Rounding Third."
A pleasing production of the show starring Ray Boucher and Darryl Semira opened May 11 in the Lancaster Opera House. Under Nathan Andrew Miller's direction, these gifted actors take audiences on an engaging journey through one particularly fraught little league season – and through their own struggles to find meaning in their lives.
If that sounds like a bit much for a baseball play to pull off, it's a testament to Dresser's clever and naturalistic writing that it doesn't seem that way in practice. Count this piece as another entry in the swelling canon of baseball stories that employ America's favorite pastime as a metaphor rich enough to contain all of American life.
The play opens on the first meeting between the brash longtime little league coach Don (Boucher) and his new assistant coach Michael (Semira), a buttoned-up baseball novice with quaint ideas about youth competition.
Boucher is delightful as a testosterone-fueled jock whose focus on winning is a clear mask for his manifold insecurities. He is 100 percent insufferable from the first line, always goading and denigrating his colleague even while revealing his own deep flaws.
Semira, for his part, totally inhabits his character's New Age disposition, dispensing what he believes is wisdom about teamwork, personal fulfillment and the most important element of any youth sports activity: having fun.
Together, Boucher and Semira establish a solid rhythm, their theatrical antipathy toward one another gradually melting as each adopts the personality traits of the other. In pieces, the stories of their lives emerge, and the play soon becomes more about two grown men exorcising their demons through the ritual of sport than about the superficial vagaries of coaching.
All of this unfolds on a simple and effective set designed by the gifted David Dwyer and lit by Nicholas Quinn, consisting of little more than the back-end of Don's van and a few pieces of equipment.
It is a testament to that design, to the talents of Boucher and Semira and to Dresser's writing that the play's two acts seem to pass much more swiftly than a six-inning little league game.
For anyone who's ever played Little League, coached it, or contemplated its place in American life, "Rounding Third" is sure to satisfy.
3 stars (out of four)
"Rounding Third" runs through May 22 in the Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Ave., Lancaster. Tickets are $10 to $26. Call 683-1776 or visit lancopera.org.