Found out today that a short film written by Gavin Carlton based on my full-length play, “Rube,” received honorable mention in the 3rd Annual Sundance TRMS Contest.

 

Following are links to articles written in the Los Angeles Times and OC Register about the play, which ran in Fullerton in 2003-04. (I’m fairly certain it’s the only play in the history of Southern California theater to be the subject of columns by the lead sportswriters of the largest local papers in the region…)

Here’s a link to a column that T.J. Simers wrote in the Los Angeles Times about ghostly apparitions surrounding the play, in its 2004 production at the Orange County Theater Festival.

Below is the full text of the Oct. 17, 2003 world premiere production, at STAGES Theatre in Fullerton:

Rube!’ looks like a winner // World premiere portrait of a boisterous, early 20th-century pitcher transcends its baseball theme.

October 17, 2003

Byline:ERIC MARCHESE   

 

    Just as baseball fans everywhere gear up for the World Series, along comes “Rube!,” Joel Beers’ joyous, energetic and wholly original take on the career of obscure Philadelphia Athletics left-hander George Edward Waddell, known to his teammates and fans as Rube.

      Now in its world premiere at Stages Theatre in Fullerton, “Rube!” isn’t just for baseball fans. “Rube!” is loaded with real-life (and now legendary) historical figures such as gritty player Ty Cobb, manager Connie Mack, sportswriter Grantland Rice and social activist Ida Tarbell. Like your uproarious comedy tinged with pathos? “Rube!” should satisfy. Want a story that’s equal parts fact and fiction? “Rube!” fills the bill.

 

    The A’s lefty, we’re told, was “virtually unhittable” from the 1902 to the 1907 seasons, and a big part of the magic of Beers’ script is that it makes so compelling a figure of a man unknown to all but the most diehard of baseball enthusiasts. All the more compelling is that “Rube!” describes its protagonist as “a boozer and a brawler, a hero and a heel, a lover and a loser, a nobody and a superstar” and “a big, overgrown kid with an even bigger appetite for life.” With its cinema-like technique, randomly criss-crossing the years 1902-1922, “Rube!” familiarizes us with a figure so much larger than life he’d put the Babe himself to shame.

 

   More critically, though, Beers’ script frames the difficulties confronted by anyone trying to define the “real” Waddell, as opposed to the welter of myths surrounding him. “Rube!” could have been a fairly straightforward account of the life and death of an obscure major league pitcher of yore, or a partly comical, partly sentimental biography. But in the hands of playwright Beers, director Patrick Gwaltney and a solid cast and crew, “Rube!” is a rowdy, boisterous paean not only to baseball, but also to individuality and the American spirit.

   In this case, the someone wrestling to separate fact from myth is Philadelphia Inquirer sports reporter Rice, played with single-minded intensity by Nick Boicourt. It’s 1922, 15 years since Waddell’s glory years with the A’s and eight years since his death at age 37. Rice is determined to give his readers a glimpse of reality while poking holes in the tall tales — a framework that gives the freewheeling “Rube!” a sense of structure.

   Along the way, we see the young, rural Pennsylvania pitcher’s first encounter with his new teammates on the perpetually cellar-dwelling A’s, his nickname’s origins, his fun-loving approach to even the most-feared batters, his unwitting attempts to break baseball’s then carefully guarded color line, his debut in a Broadway play, and his on-again, off-again romance with the crusading Tarbell.

    Gwaltney’s fluid staging suits Beers’ text well, meshing accounts of Waddell’s aiding the downtrodden and chasing firetrucks with the script’s many memorable moments: Rube assists a songwriter in creating the melody to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”; wolfs down a cooked chicken at a charity ball, surrounded by snobby Ivy Leaguers; and, using a lemon, strikes out Ed Delahanty (Bill Landsman) on three pitches. Rube sings and barks like a dog to coax a vendor into letting him taste the new “red hot dachshund on a bun,” then sketches a cartoon and christens the treat “barking hot dogs.” A montage of Rube’s many off-the-field indiscretions — each one ending with a self-surprised “oops!,” including his decking of a policeman — is a rowdy delight.

    The script’s portrayal of this “ornery, outrageous, joyous” man who loved fishing, boozing and throwing a baseball would fail miserably without the right lead. Brad Whitfield is wholly credible as Waddell — as big and musclebound as any jock, as trusting and naïve as a child. In Whitfield we see a bear of a man wildly, insanely, joyously alive, a misfit easier to like from afar than he must have been to know in person.

    Gwaltney surrounds Whitfield with a panoply of talented character actors: Howard Patterson as Rube’s bucolic manager, the earthy-but-fair disciplinarian Mack; Steven Lamprinos as self-described “dumb-as-dirt catcher” Ossee “Schreck” Schreckengaust; Boicourt’s inquisitive Rice; Sean Hesketh’s sneering, cold-blooded Cobb; and Darri Kristin, whose petite stature belies her portrayal of Ida Tarbell as a fast-talking firebrand (a clever touch of ’30s screwball comedies) less intrigued by Rube’s athletic skills than by the public’s fascination with him.

   Dave Clucas lends atmosphere aplenty by playing banjo, guitar and harmonica in the onstage guise of two characters, a minstrel and a songwriter. Gwaltney and Jon Gaw’s set is pungent — newspaper clippings and historical photos, patriotic bunting, vintage scoreboards and locker room equipment and Rice’s paper-littered desk. Michael Skinner and Kirk Huff’s lighting design is likewise evocative, while Gaw’s sound design uses period music (ragtime), crowds shouting, bats whiffing and 95-mph baseballs being caught in leather gloves. The uncredited costumes — notably the A’s pinstripes — are sharp.     Despite Beers’ disclaimer that “Rube!” takes liberties with the facts, the net result is a rowdily funny show that, like its hero, has a heart the size of a baseball diamond.

emarchesewriter@aol.com

 

When: Through Oct. 25. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays

Where: Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton

How much: $15 ($12 students/seniors)

Length: About two hours

Suitability: All ages

Call: (714) 525-4484“Rube!” throws nothing but strikes in story of an obscure baseball figure. Page 41

And here is a preview written by OC Register sportswriter Randy Youngman on the play, before its appearance in the 2004 Orange County Theater Festival

 

TOP OF THE 2ND
Pitcher Waddell a hit with ‘Rube!’

July 22, 2004

Byline:RANDY YOUNGMAN  The Orange County Register 

FULLERTON If you’re a baseball fan, you might have heard or read about George Edward “Rube” Waddell, a turn-of-the-20th-century pitcher who won seven strikeout titles, recorded four consecutive 20-victory seasons for the Philadelphia A’s in the early 1900s and eventually was honored with a bronzed bust in Cooperstown.

     But Waddell’s exploits on the mound aren’t what made him famous or the primary reason he was major-league baseball’s biggest drawing card until Babe Ruth came along.

     Waddell was considered one of baseball’s most colorful characters and one of its original flakes — a wild and crazy guy who ran off the mound to chase fire engines, played marbles with kids under the stands during games and sometimes disappeared for days between starts to go fishing, gambling, drinking and/or womanizing.

     It is difficult to separate truth from myth because there are so many stories about “Rube,” a Pennsylvania farmboy who got stuck with his nickname early in his career because he seemed like a country bumpkin who just fell off the turnip truck.

     Did he really skip games to tend bar?

    Did he sometimes order his fielders off the field during exhibition games then strike out the side?

    Did he always wear red firefighter gear under his baseball uniform and often run into burning buildings to try to rescue imperiled residents?

   Did he engage in name-calling pitching duels with rival Cy Young and continually mock a mean-spirited contemporary named Ty Cobb?

   Did he wrestle alligators, get bitten by a lion and train a flock of geese to jump rope?

   Did he get hurt during late-season horseplay with a teammate in 1905, the year he led the AL in victories, ERA and strikeouts, preventing him from pitching in the World Series against the New York Giants? Or did the gamblers get to him?

    Did he get married four times in six years and get thrown  in jail for assaulting more than one set of in-laws?

   Was the hard-throwing left-hander really a “souse-paw” who couldn’t control his drinking?

   All of these activities and allegations have been reported, but it is unclear how much the truth has been embellished over the years.

   What we do know for certain is that Waddell was born on Friday the 13th in October 1876 and died of tuberculosis on April Fools’ Day in 1914, at age 37, in a San Antonio sanitarium.

    We also know his many eccentricities and his zany behavior exasperated many a manager and led to his frequent team changes until legendary Philadelphia manager “Connie” Mack took him under his wing, allowing him the latitude to showcase his immeasurable pitching talent.

    All of the stories and anecdotes, apocryphal or not, made Edward “Rube” Waddell — the man, the myth, the legend — a perfect subject for a local theatrical production called “Rube!”, which was written by Fullerton resident Joel Beers and is being performed four more nights at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, as part of the inaugural Orange County Theater Festival in Fullerton.

    Originally performed last fall at a smaller stagefront theater in Fullerton, “Rube!” was one of four critically acclaimed plays brought back for the festival at the larger, 246-seat outdoor amphitheatre at the historic Muckenthaler mansion (1201 W. Malvern Ave.)

    It is Beers’ eighth full-length play, his first revolving around a sports figure. As a longtime baseball fan and former Anaheim sports writer who once dreamed of becoming a baseball broadcaster, Beers became fascinated by the life story of Waddell, once described by political columnist George Will as “the strangest man to ever play baseball.”

    “The jury is still out (on) whether Rube was slightly retarded, an inveterate alcoholic, a big, overgrown kid with an incredible lust for life — or a little bit of everything,” said Beers, also an associate editor for OC Weekly and OC Golf magazines.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday’s production of “Rube!” The story of Waddell’s life, heavily fictionalized, is retold through the character of legendary sports writer Grantland Rice, as forcefully portrayed by actor Nick Boicourt Jr. Bradley Whitfield, as Rube, and Bob Molasses, as Mack, also deliver compelling performances.

    If you’re a sports fan, a baseball fan or merely a theater fan, you’ll also be entertained by “Rube!”, which Beers hopes someday to take to an even larger venue in Los Angeles. The final four festival performances are tonight through Sunday. Admission is $15 ($12 for students and seniors). For more ticket information, call (714) 441-2381 or (714) 738-6595. Somewhere, I’ll bet Rube is laughing, too — as he chases a fire truck.

(714) 796-5050 ext. 1026 or

ryoungman@ocregister.com

 

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