By Sarah Mankowski   Published Jan 02, 2006 at 5:08 AM

What's the perfect remedy for a bitterly cold pre-holiday Wednesday night in Bay View? The Boulevard Ensemble's production of Richard Dresser's comedy, "Rounding Third." Besides distracting the dozen or so audience members from the brutal December elements with thoughts of warmer times, the two-man show also gave an enlightening glimpse into the multi-faceted world of Little League baseball.

Now, granted, some may say, "Well, I'm not a baseball fan, so this isn't for me." Au contraire. In a way, "Rounding Third" is about anything but Little League baseball, as it explores two men's differing commitments to their families, jobs, the game and each other. The dialogue is so naturally written, in fact, that it seems like the actors, Thomas Rosenthal (Don - "never Donald") and Jason Powell (Mike - "Actually, it's Michael") are playing themselves, rather than delivering lines from a script.

Of course, this fluidity and ease are also inherent in the actors' performance of a fairly complex piece. As tempting as it might be to portray two-dimensional characters, Rosenthal and Powell transcend the deceivingly simple premise of the play, and explore the emotional baggage and history that lie beneath the plot action. When confronted by Assistant Coach Mike about his first-day speech to the team, "How do we have FUN playing baseball? I have one word for you - WINNING," Rosenthal vividly reveals the deep-seated issues that stem from Don's baseball experiences as a youth. Powell also powerfully displays the vacillation his character experiences on a daily basis between his job, son and vow to overcome his troubled past when he explodes at Don, "I've had enough of that in my life - stupid people calling me stupid names." This is no "Bad News Bears."

As much as the show focuses more on the parents (which seems fairly typical of the youth sports world) Powell and Rosenthal did a great job realistically interacting with the "team" - calling plays and shouting out random commands. Rather than blankly yelling at some far-off space, they truly suspended our disbelief for two hours as they coached their invisible team.

The set also reminds one of a sparsely-decorated baseball fan's rec room, with its pool- table-green walls that feature the outlines of a baseball diamond (okay, so a baseball fanatic). Scenic Designer Michael Dornemann's innovative extension of the baselines onto the floor create a sort of apron for the small stage space, and work well when Don and Mike are coaching players on 1st and 3rd . A matching green flip chart entitled "Inning" is changed between scenes by the actors to indicate where the action takes place, such as "A Bar," "Don's Van," and of course, "A Ballfield."

Again, less is more for this show, and Sound Tech Daniel Niedziejko does just that. Other than clips of a baseball announcer between scenes, and the intermittent jarring ring of Michael's cell phone, the only other sound was the oblivious front row audience member unwrapping his cellophane-wrapped candy and fiddling with it for quite some time (NOTE: this is the definitive actor's nightmare - worse than nails on a chalkboard, and a LOT more distracting).

The Boulevard Ensemble's production of "Rounding Third" provides a brief respite from the boundless sources of holiday-themed entertainment that have assaulted us for the last few weeks. It runs through Jan. 14 and is well-worth the trip to Bay View (even if just to experience Mark Bucher's curtain speeches). For ticket information, please call 744-5757.