The Drive to Win with Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper

We’ve often heard that winning isn’t everything, right?

It’s a question that FST’s heartwarming comedy Rounding Third poses via Don, a veteran Little League coach with a heart full of determination…and little sympathy for losers.

Stepping up to the plate to take on Don is actor Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper. An accomplished actor on the stage and the screen, he has already received rave reviews for his “larger-than-life” and “first-rate” performance as Don.

We sat down with Mongiardo-Cooper to learn more about Don, a multi-faceted man with an inflexible determination to win…at life and at the old ball game.

First, I must ask, did you have any Little League experiences as a kid? If so, what were they like and how have they influenced you as a professional actor?

When I was 7 my mom asked if I wanted to join Little League and I cried. She didn’t sign me up. She didn’t even suggest that I do it. She just asked the question and I burst into tears. That was the extent of my Little League experience.

Tell us more about your character, Don. What drives him as a Little League coach?

Don defines himself by his winning record. He thinks in statistics. Baseball and life are pretty much interchangeable, and for him, everything is a zero sum game. You either win or lose. He never sees how much trouble he’s in until his winning fantasy finally comes crashing down and he’s got nothing left to hang on to.

Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Timothy C. Goodwin. Photo by Matthew Holler.

Don has a very…special relationship with his assistant coach Michael. Don obviously believes in winning, while Michael is much looser and more focused on fun. What is it about this relationship that makes it resonate so strongly throughout the play?

I think the central question of any relationship in theatre that has conflict is, “Why do you stay?” Here, it’s The Game. I think most people can identify with being thrust into circumstances with people they don’t get along with and having to make it work.

Fortunately, Timothy C. Goodwin (who plays Michael) and I get along great, and truthfully, my favorite part of this process is when we are really connecting with one another on stage. The relationship became easier and easier to build because there was lot of affection and trust between the two of us.

Was there anything that surprised you about Don as you dug deeper into his character?

In talking to my husband (an extraordinary actor and playwright), he helped me to realize that apart from Don’s bravado…he’s in real pain. He’s suffering. That’s part of why baseball means so much to him. And it was surprisingly relatable. In many ways. he’s looking for absolution through the game, but when everything else is gone, he can’t hold on to the fantasy any longer.

Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper. Photo by Matthew Holler.

Is there anything you have learned from Don as an actor? Did you make any discoveries that you anticipate will influence your work in the future?

I think what I’ve learned is, in many ways, what I’m always learning as an actor. Slow down. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t be resistant to other people’s thoughts just because they weren’t your thoughts. I feel like I learn that in every rehearsal and production process, but it was particularly resonant during this one.

Rounding Third by Richard Dresser is now playing in FST’s Gompertz Theatre through August 29, 2021. For tickets or more information, click here.