With teamwork often comes give and take. It also comes with life and death, at least for the cast of Bang the Drum Slowly, a new play making its run at Theater LaB Houston. The play is based on the novel and 1973 film with Robert DeNiro.
Director Ed Muth guides the audience through the lives of Author and Bruce, two teammates on the 1956 New York Mammoths baseball team. Bruce must learn to cope with the effects of living with a fatal disease as he struggles to maintain his dignity on the team. He finds it in his good friend, Author, who is the only other teammate he confides in about his disease.
The play opens as Bruce phones Author from Minnesota, where he has learned he has Hodgkin's, a fatal form of cancer. Bruce does not reveal he has a disease but merely states that Author must come "right away."
The small nature of Theater LaB, which seats approximately 100 people, provides the intimacy the audience needs to relate to a scene like this. Each audience member can see the expression on Author's face when he hears the news. Muth does an excellent job of using this smallness of forum to his advantage throughout the play at times when space could be a liability.
The play continues to reveal the hardships that Bruce and Author must overcome as their teammates learn of the disease. Author secures Bruce's place on the team, however, with a clause in his contract saying Bruce will have to go with him if he gets traded to another team or kicked off the Mammoths altogether.
The set, although quite small, does give a sense of intimacy, bringing the audience into the action, moreso than if the play were housed in a larger theater. The stage, although decorated with minimal props, does at the appropriate times look like a baseball field or locker room. These things individually make the story seem more believable to the audience.
There is also significant character development. Hal Core does a good job of presenting a character with human qualities as Bruce. The action rarely focuses on the physical affects of his disease but instead on his relationship with Author, played by Lynn Miller Jr.
The dialog takes on an interesting point of view as Author's thoughts are reported out loud, revealing his inner thoughts. This technique was a bit strange at first, because it seemed Author was talking to himself. But it quickly becames apparent that these thoughts are a narrative device that is actually essential to the main action.
Bang the Drum Slowly is not just a play about baseball. Although it does reveal the major workings of the sport, such as salary conflicts and teamwork, the piece has a distinctly human side to it. It reveals Bruce and Author's struggle with their secret and their fear that Bruce may not be allowed to play any more.
Theater LaB Houston is located at 1706 Alamo, off 2100 Houston Ave., just outside downtown. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through March 28, with 6 p.m. Sunday performances on March 15, 22 and 29. Tickets are $18 and are available by calling (713) 868-7516.