A big-league pitcher and a big-league catcher share a terrible secret: The catcher has Hodgkin’s disease and is going to die, though he may have one more season in him. Bang the Drum Slowly, adapted from Mark Harris’s 1956 novel by Eric Simonson (it was also a 1973 film), is richly flavored with both cheese and corn. But Harris’s storytelling and Menendian’s staging ensure that mortality is as much a character as the goofy bunch of fun-loving ballplayers, saving the production from cute overload.
The overall effect is of overpowering truth, despite frequently forgettable dialogue. The actors—led by Michael Stegall as the pitcher-protector and Kevin Duvall as the doomed, sweetly dopey catcher—convince as teammates who are almost family to each other. With athletic precision, the actors rearrange benches to create each setting; thanks to Peter Storms’s sophisticated sound design, we see, hear and almost smell the ballpark, bullpen, bus and locker room.
Though he occasionally trips on the play’s Damon Runyon–esque phrasing, the cinematically handsome Stegall (a recent Columbia College graduate who stood out in Raven’s 2011 Bus Stop) has an incandescent stage presence and is so grounded he seems to be holding down the stage with his feet. He has big-league written all over him.