It's a daunting task for any small theatre company trying to stay afloat in Los Angeles to choose a season that will be innovative and fresh while offering themes universal enough to attract an audience. For anyone whose knowledge of America's pastime is that baseballs are round and the sticks that connect with them are long cylinders made of wood, electing to see a play that takes place on a nearly bare outfield set, featuring a pair of rather unoriginal adversarial characters whose world revolves around coaching an unseen Little League team, might be low on the wish list.
Well, hold me down and buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, because this one is a surprising home run. Thanks to the Colony's large subscriber base and those of us who agree to review plays on assignment, enough people will see and hear about the L.A. debut of this slick baseball comedy to know its worth. Its accessibility is largely thanks to playwright Richard Dresser's ability to make his stereotypical sports-driven suburban dads real despite their clichéd responses to the things that happen while working together to lead their kiddies to victory, but surely this show might easily be lost without the accomplished participation of director Andrew Barnicle and his golden two-person cast. Dresser's predictable tale could easily become a Midwestern dinner-theatre Odd Couple in sweatpants and baseball caps, but under Barnicle's gentle guidance, Jerry Kernion and Kevin Symons as the diametrically different small-town coaches bounce off each other with consummate skill. Kernion's loud and abrasive ball-scratcher Don could wear out an audience quickly were it not for the layers of vulnerability and pathos the actor finds lurking just under the crusty surface. As his soft-spoken new assistant coach, Michael, Symons balances his larger-than-life co-star with exquisite restraint and simplicity.
One of the most interesting side effects of producing this play about baseball for an audience peppered largely by loyal older subscribers is that, for once, the wives are the ones nodding out in the first 20 minutes rather than those bored spouses they've been dragging along all these years.
Presented by and at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. (Also Sat. 3 p.m. Apr. 21-28; Thu. 8 p.m. May 3-10.) Apr. 14-May 13. (818) 558-7000, ext. 15. www.colonytheatre.org.