NOT ONLY DID the eight actors who play Chicago White Sox in "Out!" have to learn to toss a baseball around in the relatively limited confines of New Playwrights' Theater, but they also fielded extensive research on the personalities of their historical characters. Lawrence Kelley's play (which explains the origin of the phrase "Say it ain't so, Joe") is about how the White Sox threw the 1919 World Series in what became known as the "Black Sox scandal," the saddest thing ever to happen to baseball up to the adoption of the designated-hitter rule.
Everyone in the New Playwrights' cast, coached by artistic director Peter Frisch, had some baseball experience, including Frisch, whose love for sandlot ball attracted him to the play. Paul Christie, who plays prime fixer Arnold "Chick" Gandil, played semi-pro baseball in New York and worked with Austin Porter, who plays pitcher Eddie Cicotte, on his pitching stances.
Arnie Mazer, who plays Charles "Swede" Risberg, is the son of New York television sportscaster Bill Mazer, and did exhaustive research on his enigmatic character, who never talked about his involvement in the scandal. Mazer, who appeared in the original New York production last year, brought along his own baseball library, traced Risberg's family, field and financial history, and even did shortstop exercises to get closer to Risberg's rhythms and motivations.
John Elko, who plays "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, tapped a valuable resource for production details that weren't in Kelly's script -- Elko's father played for the Chicago Cubs in the late '20s, and knew the 1919 White Sox personally. So he knew, for example, that Claude "Lefty" Williams used to play constantly with a bottlecap on a string the script -- watch Steven John Evans, who plays "Lefty." "Out!" features colorful ensemble acting and locker-room talk from a team that also includes T.J. Edwards, Bill Whittaker and Mitchell Patrick. Try and catch it before it closes Sunday.
When Michael Cimino's new movie "The Sicilian" opens this Friday, watch for Arena actor Richard Bauer in his first important screen role. In the movie, which is based on Mario Puzo's bestseller, Bauer plays Hector Adonis, a university professor who is mentor and godfather to Salvatore Giuliano, who led Sicily's bid to secede from Italy. Bauer recently played a newspaper editor in the little-seen go-go movie "Good to Go."
"I've never directed anything quite like it," says Michael Oliver of "The Drunk," one of four short theatrical pieces in Sanctuary Theatre's "An Evening With Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky." In Gorky's enigmatic "improvisation," a drunk comes home and stumbles into his "living" room, where he hallucinates that his chair, clock, portraits and lamps all become animated, like a malevolent "Pee-Wee's Playhouse." "The script was just a three-page description suggesting what happened after the man entered," Oliver says. "It was written for improvisation, with very little explanation for why things are happening." Granted such creative freedom by the playwright, Oliver and translator Thaddeus Wittlin decided to give the furniture the characteristics of family members; they also added a line to give the audience a clue as to what might be going on in the beleaguered Drunk's mind. "But it's still kind of left to the audience to decide," Oliver says. "An Evening" has been extended through October.
After Midnight: Source Theater is starting up its popular Late Night series again, with the premiere of Washington writer Michael T. Folie's "Clone," which asks the question "Is sex better with electronically enhanced circuitry?" The one-act comedy -- which stars Keith Parker as "the dying wealthy bastard," Jim Hicks as his clone, Jane Beard as "the ambitious designer baby," and Ritchie Porter as "the robot valet Jeeves" -- opens Halloween night at 11:30 in the Main Stage. William Freimuth, who directed Source's gloriously gory "Titus Andronicus" has been named associate producer of the series, and says he's looking at offbeat plays like Murray Shisgal's "The Flatulist" and Sam Shepard's "Mad Dog Blues," stage adaptations of "A Clockwork Orange" and "Zippy the Pinhead," as well as developmental pieces by local theater artists.
Bulletin Board: Some actors have to gain weight for a part, others are called on to learn how to play the trumpet or dribble a basketball or throw punches. At Arena Stage, three nonsmoking actors are among those puffing convincingly on stogies every night in Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men." At least one theatergoer was fuming over the onstage smokescreen, however -- a recent caller complained to Backstage that sitting in the Arena was like being in a close back room. But it's all but impossible to do this play, which is about political machinery, without cigars . . . One night of each Arena Stage production is designated as $5 Student Night, which means students may purchase one $5 ticket with a valid ID. The night for "All the King's Men" is this Friday; for "From Off the Streets of Cleveland Comes . . . American Splendor," it's November 6 . . . As part of the "War and Memory" project at Washington Project for the Arts, there will be a dramatic reading of "A Narrow Bed" at the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger, Monday at 8 p.m. Shakespeare Theatre artistic director Michael Kahn will direct five actors in Ellen McLaughlin's play about the impact of the Vietnam War on two women's lives. It's free, but call 546-4000 for reservations . . . And Arlington playwright Steven Stosny's "Henry-Henry" will be showcased at the Monday Night at the National series, with shows in the Helen Hayes Gallery Monday at 7 and 8:30. Bill Grimmett plays the title character, a dual personality. Get there early-early . . .