'Rounding Third,' to crowd's cheers

Richard Dresser always intended for "Rounding Third," his two-character comedy about mismatched dads coaching their sons' Little League baseball team, to open with the pair meeting in a bar. And that's how it's playing in its West Coast premiere at the Laguna Playhouse.

But one actor's fame prevented the playwright from having it his way in the only previous production, last fall at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Ill. George Wendt was cast as Don, the blustery guy who thinks winning is job one and lords it over his assistant coach, who just wants the kids to have fun. "Everybody knows him from 'Cheers,' and the last thing we wanted was to have George Wendt on a barstool with a beer," Dresser says. Hoping to draw audiences into the world of his play -- instead of flashing them back to a place where everybody knows your name -- Dresser had the two meet on a ball field instead.

"Even doing it that way, the lights would come up and I'd hear people go, 'Norm!' and I'd cringe," Dresser recalls. "I think George did, too. People feel they have such an intimate relationship with television actors."

Dresser benefits from that: While crafting a steady stream of stage comedies since the late 1980s, he has earned his living primarily as a TV writer, with "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd" his most acclaimed show. In Laguna, Broadway veteran Michael Mulheren -- a 2000 Tony nominee for his "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" number in "Kiss Me, Kate" -- is playing Don, so there's no fear of the tube intruding on the boards.

-- Mike Boehm

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