FROM LOU GEHRIG to The Brothers K, the vision of the wounded athlete, of a once-perfected strength ravaged by injury and age, is a potent reminder of our own mortality. In Eric Simonson's dramatization of Mark Harris' Bang the Drum Slowly, the baseball field becomes a heroic stage, and the clich頯f a father playing catch with his son is elevated into an analysis of the glory of sportsmanship, camaraderie, and virility.
Bang the Drum Slowly
Union Garage, ends July 15
Baseball's emphasis on teamwork means that instead of a singular noble athlete, the focus of this play is Bruce Pearson, an uneducated, third-string catcher who confides to his roommate Author Wiggen that he's dying. Author's the club's star pitcher, who chooses to hide the illness from managers and link his contract with that of his friend, ensuring them both positions for what he knows will be both a winning year and Bruce's last. Pearson's dependence on his team allows them to rise to the occasion of helping him, as they exemplify the male sports-paragon-lost of "all for one."
Utilizing the talents of multidimensional cast members adept at performing several roles with rapid transitions, actor-director J.D. Lloyd gracefully intertwines performance and production. Although characters, language, and set design place the audience undoubtedly within the '50s, the play is hardly limited to an experience of nostalgia. Crutches of stereotypic fraternity and the Eisenhower Era are cast aside; no violins or sappy devices cloud the story's content. Refreshingly, these men act and relate as sportsmen in their decade would, through little more than beer, guns, and bad jokes. Together they spend a summer's season, through dull days, fast pitches, and rain-outs, while the pace and transitions convey their experience without either lagging or feeling abrupt.
The play's conclusion is both tragic and heroic on a small scale, communicating that, through life and death, however the game of life continues around us, we should at least offer respect to one another. It might sound simplistic, but coming from the mouth of a baseball player, it's movingly fitting.