Like baseball players in the post-steroids era, theatrical casts have thinned down considerably in recent years. Richard Dresser's Rounding Third is the sort of show that cash-strapped companies love: With one set and a cast of (count 'em) two, it certainly is budget-friendly. Fortunately, it's also an amusing, affecting little play, at least when performed with the expert craftsmanship of this PCPA Theaterfest production. Director Leo Cortez nimbly manages the script's frequent changes in tone and gets layered performances from both of his actors. Since Cortez is a Santa Maria, Calif., native, a PCPA alum, and a veteran actor with the company, a cheer is in order: Score one for the home team.
Dresser's dramaturgy is somewhat predictable, but he nicely skirts sentimentality. Don (Erik Stein), the longtime coach of a Little League team, is forced to break in a new assistant, Michael (Joseph Foss). The men are, at first glance, polar opposites: Don, a house painter, is loud, aggressive, and determined to win, while Michael, a business executive, is soft-spoken, unassuming, and intent on making sure the kids have a good time. Through the course of the season, we gradually see beneath each man's persona to the wounded little boy inside. This unveiling process could come across as contrived; the fact that it feels real reflects the fine work of the actors. There are no angels in the outfield, but there are recognizable humans in the dugout.
Stein, an imposing stage presence with his large frame and deep booming voice, manages to make Don appropriately obnoxious while hinting at the insecurity that fuels his behavior. Foss, meanwhile, subtly suggests the mild desperation under Michael's cheeriness. The two men also engage in some wonderful physical humor, particularly at the moment one of their young players makes a dumb mistake that costs them a game. Their hilariously contorted body language conveys just how hard they're working to repress their fury. Jennifer Melcher designed the wonderfully evocative set, dominated by a high chain-link fence separating home plate from a group of silhouetted fans.
Rounding Third runs March 9-April 2 at the Severson Theatre, Allan Hancock College, 800 S. College, Santa Maria, Calif. Tickets: (805) 922-8313. Website: www.pcpa.org.