In the traditional American sports calendar, September is when thoughts shift, albeit temporarily, from baseball to football.
But not in Holmdel. To start off their 2012-2013 season, the Holmdel Theatre Company presents the comedy "Rounding Third," opening tonight, Friday, September 21, at the Duncan Smith Theater, 36 Crawford's Corner Road.
The play (written by Richard Dresser and directed by Atlantic Highlands resident Mary Lynn Dobson) focuses not on the gridiron, but on the baseball diamond. Just off the baseball diamond, to be precise. "Rounding Third" is the tale of Don and Mike, two mismatched souls who end up coaching their sons’ shared little league baseball team.
Unlike many local theaters, Holmdel Theatre Company frequently casts New York-based Equity actors in their productions. For "Rounding Third," the production has assembled a top professional cast of Michael Basile* as Don and Broadway veteran Jim Stanek* as Mike. For Stanek, a two-person play is hardly a novelty.
“I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of that lately,” Stanek said, noting that he recently understudied a two man musical on Broadway titled The Story of My Life, then performed in productions of the show in both Philadelphia and Bloomfield. His most recent New York run, "Freud’s Last Session," was also a two man show that ran Off-Broadway.
“It’s a heck of a lot of work,” said Stanek of two-person plays. “Although, at the same time you get to tell the story from the beginning to the end, no stopping. And therefore there’s a consistency you don’t get with larger casts. You don’t have to walk offstage and get your energy up to go back onstage for your next scene.”
When Dobson began planning to cast the show professionally, Stanek was one of the first names she reached out to, having worked with him on a 2009 production of her own play “Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van” at the New York International Fringe Festival.
“We’ve kept in touch since then,” Stanek said. “I’ve always loved her play. She’s supported my career and seen me in some things, and I said, ‘If I’m available, I’m interested.‘”
Basile, on the other hand, had never met Dobson before auditioning for the production over the summer. A Brooklyn firefighter when he’s not acting, Basile boasts a number of film and television credits, including appearances on both Law and Order and Law and Order: SVU. While it’s certainly a challenge balancing an acting career with ensuring the public’s safety, Basile says it’s also manageable.
“Luckily it’s a pretty flexible schedule so you can do that sort of thing,” he said. “If it’s (a show) with an extensive schedule like this, you can use vacation time.”
“It beats waiting tables,” he adds with a laugh.
The actors both feel well suited to their roles. Stanek’s character is a newcomer to the Little League coaching ranks, and believes the purpose of youth sports is to teach children how to have fun, make friends, and play fairly.
Basile’s character is a more experienced Little League manager who believes his charges should be taught the importance of victory at all costs. The laughs unfold as these two disparate characters, the only ones we actually meet onstage, try to get the best out of their team while refraining from throttling each other in the dugout.
“I really like it,” Stanek said of the play. “It’s at times almost creepily familiar. I think it’s accessible to everyone whether you like baseball or not, because it’s really more a relationship play. It’s about two diametrically opposed characters who are placed in a situation where they have to achieve something.”
While Basile understands the play tends to favor his counterpart’s softer viewpoint about youth sports, he thinks the author gives his character a fair shake.
“I’m a veteran coach,” Basile says. “I’m more of a blue collar guy than Michael. I’m a house painter and I believe that it’s important to teach the children how to win. To play well and win. That creates kind of like a conflicting philosophy with Michael. He’s new to baseball, new to coaching. He has the more level headed philosophy. It’s kind of about that, what it means to be a father, what it means to be an American man, what’s important to teach our children. How young do we start teaching them to be competitive... you can kind of see where I’m coming from a bit.”
Both men expressed nothing but joy over working both with Dobson and in the Holmdel Theatre Company’s space.
“It is nice. It’s homey,” Stanek said. “What’s great is that it fits this show I think perfectly. This is a show about two small town dads and baseball coaches. And right outside is the school and the track, and the baseball fields. Plus the theatre itself is very small, very intimate. They’ve decorated the space so that it feels like you’re at a ball park. Also, these guys are coaching little league. And when I played little league, it’s a very intimate thing. That’s how it feels in this space.”
“I like it,” he said. “I like the three-quarter round space, I like being close to the audience. The audience can pick up things they might not be able to pick up beyond the third row in a larger space. You don’t get that kind of intimacy a lot. And (Dobson)’s been great. She’s a great director. We have a lot of fun. She knows what she wants, she has a really good gameplan. I felt like not a minute of my time was wasted in rehearsals.”
"Rounding Third" runs September 21 through October 6 at the Duncan Smith Theater, 36 Crawfords Corner Road, Holmdel, NJ. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8 pm. A Sunday, September 23 performance begins at 7 pm and a Sunday, September 30 matinee begins at 2 pm. General admission tickets are $22.00, tickets for seniors 65 or over are $17.00, and tickets for students with ID are $12.00.
To learn more about the Holmdel Theatre Company, visit holmdeltheatrecompany.org or call (212) 868-4444 for tickets.
(*Members of Actor's Equity, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.)