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Broken hearts heal in 'Batting Cage'

"THE BATTING CAGE," PYGMALION THEATRE COMPANY, Rose Wagner Center, through Oct. 20 (355-2787 or, running time: two hours, 10 minutes (one intermission)

Theatergoers familiar with playwright Joan Ackermann's work (her "Ice Glen" was produced last season by Salt Lake Acting Company), know that she doesn't pad her scripts with cheap, gratuitous R-rated language. Instead, she eloquently explores the human soul.

For Pygmalion Theatre Company's first play of the 2007-08 season, the Ackermann work is making its regional debut in Utah.

There is one, brief scene during the second act where an angry man — obviously drunk and disorderly — is pounding on the door of Room 244 of a Holiday Inn in St. Augustine, Fla., where two estranged sisters have come to honor their deceased sibling. The door-pounder unleashes an angry burst of foul language, but it's well within the context of the moment.

Most of "The Batting Cage" revolves around Juliana Finley Randolph and her younger sister, Wilson. The latter is the fraternal twin of Morgan, who died two years earlier from diabetes. The two surviving sisters handle their grief in different ways.

Christy Summerhays is well-cast as Julianna, a veritable chatterbox who has recently gone through a divorce. But Wilson, in an equally insightful performance by Bandie Balken, keeps her feelings deeply hidden. She barely talks during Act One.

Despite the relatively somber subject — the business of scattering Morgan's ashes — there is quite a bit of humor. For one thing, there's the slight predicament caused by the loss of the suitcase containing the ashes during a plane change in Atlanta. Most of the laughs come from the variety of odd characters played by Steve Andruzzi. He pops up as Bobby, a motel employee who suffers from having a barnacle growing inside his ear; as a mysterious and dashing Conquistador in an historical re-enactment; and as Phil, a flower delivery man.

During Act One, Julianna spends her time sightseeing while Wilson mopes around in her sullen state. They're both awaiting the arrival of their mother, Rose, who's been delayed after being injured in a run-in with a bicycle courier in New York City.

The two sisters switch places during Act Two. Julianna, suffering from a beet-red sunburn, languishes in the motel room, where she finds her pain is much more than merely skin deep. And Wilson comes out of her sullen shell when she becomes something of a local celebrity for her prowess in a batting cage down the street.

Rose — a delightfully exuberant woman played by Nancy Roth — finally arrives in the closing moments of the play, with her list of instructions on how the three of them should pay homage to Morgan two years after she died.

Designer Brad Henrie's set captures the tackiness of an aging Holiday Inn, although the size of the stage makes it far more spacious than most roadside motel rooms.

Ultimately, "The Batting Cage" is about resolving broken relationships and healing broken hearts.

Sensitivity rating: A minimal amount of R-rated vulgarity.