Matthew Arkin and Robert Clohessy in Rounding Third(Photo © Bruce Glikas)
Matthew Arkin and Robert Clohessy in Rounding Third
(Photo © Bruce Glikas)
There are plays for critics and there are plays for audiences. Rounding Third, at the John Houseman Theater, is a play for audiences. Richard Dresser's well-crafted work about a driven Little League coach and his new assistant -- a father with different ideas about winning and losing -- is unabashedly entertaining. Although it tries to undercut its own sentimentality every chance it gets, theatergoers looking for something emotional will not be disappointed.

The play's structure makes the plot inevitable. The coach (Robert Clohessy) feels that his mission is to prepare the kids on the team for the hard-scrapping world that awaits them. Discipline is his watchword. His assistant (Matthew Arkin) simply wants the kids to have a good time, win or lose. He wants the kids to enjoy their childhood. The two men clash right from the start, but the playwright doesn't do the obvious; he doesn't turn the coach into an easy target of a villain. For all his faults and prejudices, the coach really cares about these kids, and that makes him a formidable character.

The coach and his assistant are the only characters we see in the play but an entire team is conjured in our mind's eye -- not to mention wives, lovers, and bosses. It's a testament to the writing, John Rando's very physical direction, and the standout performances by Clohessy and Arkin that so many vivid personalities come alive even though they never actually appear.

Even as the play unfolds around these two men, it is finally about the kids -- like Little League itself. The most powerful moment occurs in a scene described by Matthew Arkin as his son, the beleaguered right fielder, attempts to catch a fly ball in the championship game. For anyone who has ever played Little League baseball or watched his or her child on the field, the description will be so vivid that you'll hold your breath until you find out what happens. And then you heart will be filled. With joy? With tears? We're not gonna tell ya. What we will tell you is that this moment is great theater, and the play that contains it is honest, funny, and poignant.

Dean Nolen, Kristine Nielsen, and Jenny Baconin Omnium Gatherum(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Dean Nolen, Kristine Nielsen, and Jenny Bacon
in Omnium Gatherum
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Gourmet delights are served to the characters in the swanky dinner party that is Omnium Gatherum at the Variety Arts Theatre, but the audience is fed nothing other than a polemical stew. One wishes that it were tastier. This 9/11-themed play by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros is scrupulously fair to all points of view regarding the attack on the World Trade Center, but fair isn't what we want. Rather, we want fierce, funny, biting, sensitive, and finally illuminating work.

Omnium Gatherum is an ambitious play of ideas that intends to surprise us with a shocking revelation at the end. However, the intended surprise is no surprise. And, for all its supposedly sharp talk, the play is boring. The authors have tried to jazz it up with thinly veiled characters patterned after the likes of Tom Clancy and Martha Stewart, but this kind of trickery only takes us farther away from the truth we seek.

This is one of three 9/11 plays that opened in the last few weeks (Recent Tragic Events and Portraits are the other two). They follow, among others, The Guys and The Mercy Seat, both of which are far superior to the latest crop. The great 9/11 play has yet to be written but give the theater credit: It's the only medium wherein artists are consistently tackling the most convulsive event in contemporary American history. Although we're disappointed in the latest plays on this subject, we're grateful that the playwrights tried and that producers and theater companies felt compelled to put these works on the boards.

Slavatore Inzerillo, Maggie Bofill, David Deblinger,and Wilhemina Olivia Garcia in Dutch Heart of Man(Photo © Monique Carboni)
Slavatore Inzerillo, Maggie Bofill, David Deblinger,
and Wilhemina Olivia Garcia in Dutch Heart of Man
(Photo © Monique Carboni)
The critical and commercial success of Our Lady of 121st Street not only brought The LAByrinth Theater Company wider recognition, it got them a new home (at least for this season) at The Public Theater. Last year's hit play, coming after a series of critically acclaimed productions in the company's small downtown space, also raised the bar of expectations. Stepping into The Shiva Theater at the Public to see LAByrinth's first production there, Dutch Heart of Man, filled us with anticipation. Narelle Sissons's set, a dirty construction site, is so realistic that, at first, we thought we had mistakenly entered a wing of the building that was under repair. Unfortunately, after a strong start, the play -- like the set -- began to look like a work in progress.

Like so many previous LAByrinth productions, Dutch Heart of Man is set in a urban, ethnic world of hardworking people. The play principally concerns a slow, shy, well-meaning giant of a man named Dutch (Salvatore Inzerillo); he falls in love with a good-looking young woman (Maggie Bofill) who has her own heavy burdens to bear. Complicating matters is Dutch's fast-talking, less-than-trustworthy friend (David Deblinger), who has the hots for his pal's new girlfriend. This triangle is the least interesting part of the play, and playwright Robert Glaudini and director Charles Goforth come up empty at what should be the pay-off. Until the unsatisfactory finale, the plot unfolds with comic twists and turns, most of them around the edges of the story rather than at its core. There's a hilarious bit of business involving an angry man (Scott Hudson) who has to wait on line, another (also featuring Hudson) about sharing food on the construction site. If the play had had that same creative impulse at its center, the story would not have ended -- both literally and figuratively -- in a dumpster.

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Michael Holland and Karen Mack(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Michael Holland and Karen Mack
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
What a Gas!

Every now and then, talented people and the public actually find each other. The talent in question is the pairing of Michael Holland and Karen Mack. Over the past couple of years, these two have collaborated on a series of pop shows that aim no higher than light, breezy entertainment -- and, in the process, they have seemingly cornered the cabaret market. Their Gashole shows, named after a horrific drink they created, are perpetually packed.

Speaking of potent mixtures, their success is based on a heady brew of playful banter, exquisite musicianship, and soaring harmonies. Holland and Mack don't ever try to move you or make you think, except to move you to applaud and to make you think how sweet a sound they create. If they weren't so damned good, we'd complain that they almost never sing any one song through from start to finish. (Instead, they often jump from one cleverly conceived medley to the next.)

The theme of their fifth and most recent Gashole show, which we caught at Don't Tell Mama, was "summer." Holland and Mack put songs as diverse as "Summer Nights" from Grease and "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess into the same medley, and the result was refreshing fun. Mind you, those were just two numbers in a medley that included eight songs, most of them wildly different from each other. Holland's imaginative arrangements kept all of the medleys from flying apart, and he and (especially) Mack seemed to be able to do almost anything they wanted with their awesome voices.

Holland and Mack are soon to offer their sixth new Gashole show at Mama Rose on October 18 and 25. Check it out!