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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Bang the Drum Slowly
American Century Theater

Also see Susan's review of Twelfth Night


Richie Montgomery and Evan Crump
Bang the Drum Slowly, the current production of American Century Theater in Arlington, Virginia, is achingly sincere but too often dramatically inert. This story of baseball players coalescing into a family in the face of tragedy has possibilities, but Eric Simonson's script never really comes to life despite a game cast and an experienced director, Ellen Dempsey.

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
Bang the Drum Slowly
January 10th - February 1st
By Mark Harris, adapted for the stage by Eric Simonson
Henry "Author" Wiggen: Evan Crump
Holly Wiggen, Lawyer: Mary Beth Luckenbaugh
Bruce Pearson: Richie Montgomery
Jonah Brooks: Arturo Tolentino
George Gonzalez, Alf: Robby Priego
Piney Woods, Aleck Olson: Kyle Lynch
Roberto Diego, Detective Rogers: Joe Feldman
Sid Goldman, Hotel Doctor: Jorge Silva
Robert "Ugly" Jones, Doctor Clark: Brandon Mitchell
Lester T. Moors, Harold "Goose" Williams: John Tweel
Patricia Moors, Mrs. Pearson: Heather Benjamin
Bradley R. Lord, Paul "Horse" Byrd, Mr. Pearson: Ric Andersen
Herman "Dutch" Snell: Craig Miller
Perry Simpson: Oghene-Bruru "Bru" Ajueyitsi
Katie: Lizzi Albert
Directed by Ellen Dempsey
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington , VA 22206
Ticket Information: www.americancentury.org


Photo: Johannes Markus


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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