Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Bang the Drum Slowly
Also see Susan's review of Twelfth Night
Simonson based his play on Mark Harris' 1956 novel, adapted for television that year and for the movies (with Michael Moriarty and Robert De Niro) in 1973. Perhaps the novel contains the odd mixture of vernacular and exaggerated grammar that the playwright employs; however, it's difficult for actors to speak lines like "I would prefer if you did not push this matter too far" and "Can he not speak for himself?" without sounding like the self-parodying gangsters of Damon Runyon.
The heart of the story is the deep friendship between two members of the fictitious New York Mammoths baseball team: Henry "Author" Wiggen (Evan Crump), a left-handed pitcher and writer, and Bruce Pearson (Richie Montgomery), a slow-witted, lumbering catcher. During the off-season, Bruce notifies Author that he has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease, a form of lymphoma that at the time was fatal. Author agrees to keep Bruce's failing health a secret, and negotiates a contract that would not allow management to fire Bruce or send him to the minor leagues without Author joining him. The play follows the two men, and the rest of the team, through the highs and lows of the season.
Montgomery is genuine and moving as the doomed Bruce, and Crump is appealingly stalwart as Author, with support from a diverse cast playing (many of them in more than one role) athletes, doctors, team management, and Bruce's parents. The flashiest performance is Lizzi Albert as Katie, the "working girl" Bruce loves.
Scenic designer Brandon Guilliams has configured the small Gunston Theatre II space into a baseball diamond bordered by two rows of clubhouse lockers. Cast members move furniture and set pieces in and out as needed, allowing for a continuous flow of action.
American Century Theater