Chicago Theatre Review
“A Sweet Tale of Pathos and Players” at the Raven Theatre
By Lazlo Collins
The tone of “Bang the Drum Slowly” is jubilant and somber at the same time. It is one of those sports stories that unite us all, whether we enjoy sports or not. Everyone can relate to the underdog, the man that is different to us; and yet, when faced to see our own immortality in his eyes; we must embrace him or deny ourselves our sense of compassion.
This capable and thoroughly satisfying drama, at The Raven Theatre Company, brings the longing of a simpler time to the audience. It also brings the well told story of one man’s extraordinary aid in helping another.
This story of a baseball team’s rise to prominence with all the dues paid through loss, commitment and barriers destroyed.
Leading us through this journey is Michael Stegall as “Author” Wiggen. He greets us with a slice of apple pie grin and good cheer from the very start. He keeps the energy and pace alive with his team’s manipulation and leadership. His performance of ultimate do-gooder may have gotten away from him; but Mr. Stegall keeps us with him throughout his ultimately emotional journey. He sinks into his character nicely in the second act, becoming more genuine as the play continues.
As the doomed baseball catcher, “Bruce Pearson”, Kevin Duvall does an excellent job of outsider very well. His awkwardness is apparent through every scene. Even when he has been fully indoctrinated in the team shenanigans; he is still not completely comfortable with his team mates. I am not sure I was convinced of a debilitating disease at times, but I let myself be taken over by the story and by the interpretations of Mr. Duvall. This is difficult role to embrace. Never wanting to seem too pathetic, and at the same time, wanting the audience to cheer with him.
The rest of the acting team plays well and supports the story with great enthusiasm. What was one of the more difficult scenes was played so well and so believable. The scene was the celebration where all the players get drunk. The toasts, the drinks, the laughs all end in more of the more realistic inebriations I can think of to date. It is just the right amount of tension and beer for a lovely, realistically well done moment for the ensemble.
Some of the players take on multiple roles throughout the show. Jason Love, Jonathan Nichols, Jen Short, Dan Toot, Kristen Williams, and especially, the excellent Joshua J Volkers are successful and keep the characters distinct and believable.
Last, but certainly not least is Tim Walsh as “Dutch Schnell”. Mr. Walsh’s performance was a complete home run. His brash team coach stood out among the crowd. His character was never too shrill or overbearing. His many interrogations into the whereabouts and whys of his southern catcher can only be described as brilliant. He keeps it comedic without being too muggy or overwrought. Mr. Walsh was excellent and kept the energy of the show white hot. Congratulations on such a winning performance.
With a simple but functional set design (Andrei Onegin) and great mood making lighting (Kurt Ottinger), this duo hits it out of the park. I must mention the great use of sound by Peter Storm; essential to the story for a job well done.
With the excellent direction of Michael Menendian “Bang the Drum Slowly” touches us with thoughts of our own mortality and may how we treat those around us.
“Bang the Drum Slowly” runs through 30 June 2012 at The Raven Theatre. For tickets call 773-338-2177 or www.raventheatre.com