Bang the Drum Slowly worked as an early television play, and two decades later as a movie by pandering to sports fans' nostalgia. The story features a third-rate ballplayer who develops Hodgkin's disease, the star roommate who protects him, and the team that folds in on itself in a dignified but conflicted fashion while dealing with this. The obviousness of metaphors for fading youth and transient glory reinforce the comforting significance of the sport. The influx of different ethnicities and the wider dissemination of ballplayers' personal foibles and moral weaknesses began to cast doubts on the sport's core myths in the 1950s and '70s, respectively; however, these become irrelevant in the bright, shining light of the basic human story at Bang the Drum Slowly's core.
Seattle Theatre Project makes Bang the Drum Slowly a period piece, a fatal mistake from which the play never truly recovers. The adaptation lacks the accumulation of detail that makes for an evocative period piece, and lacks the balance necessary for effective melodrama. An early scene intended to show how well-liked sick ballplayer Bruce Pearson (J. D. Lloyd) is in his hometown becomes little more than brief handshakes from characters hurtling across the stage. Meanwhile, the actor playing caretaker-teammate Henry "Author" Wiggen (Brad Cook) must immediately communicate a depth of character to make his eventual protective relationship with Pearson believable. Both Cook and Lloyd give appealing performances, but neither is up to the nearly impossibly layered nuances demanded by the play's first 20 minutes. The staging (bleacher-style with a fake pitcher's mound between the two halves of the audience) deserves a mention, although watching baseball indoors with very little in the way of air conditioning makes one long for a shorter play, or at the very least a beer vendor.