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Saturday, 19 March 2011 13:20

Broadway Review: THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON

Written by
Brian Cox, Jason Patric, Jim Gaffigan, Chris Noth and Keifer Sutherland (l-r) Brian Cox, Jason Patric, Jim Gaffigan, Chris Noth and Keifer Sutherland (l-r) Photo: Joan Marcus
Jason Miller’s That Championship Season was first produced at the Public Theatre in May of 1972.   That production moved to Broadway and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Play.  To give the play some context, President Kennedy was only dead eight years, Roe v. Wade had been argued before the Supreme Court the December before and the House Committee on un-American Activities was still three years away from being disbanded.  This is the backdrop to That Championship Season...

Every year Coach (Brian Cox) and four of his championship team players get together at the house for a reunion of sorts.  He's living twenty years in the past; his entire persona revolves around his role as Coach of the team "that championship season." He continually pumps up his boys telling them “You guys are my real trophy.”  Brian Cox brings Coach to vibrant and disquieting life.

The rest of the cast hold their own in their respective roles. These are not nice men. These are the jocks you remember from high-school who have grown into morally questionable adults.  Give them enough liquor and watch their formerly chummy camaraderie devolve into unbridled venomous backstabbing.  

George (Jim Gaffigan) is the former mayor of the town of 54,000.  He is running for mayor again.  He's an oaf of an insurance salesman who talks himself into believing that he's God's gift to politics. But he’s just as much a schmuck as the rest of the guys.  Comedian Gaffigan impressively unravels the buffoonish exterior to reveal the inner life of George as he asks “You think the old clown doesn’t have deep feelings, huh?”

James (Keifer Sutherland) is a school vice-principal and he’s running George's campaign.  James harbors political aspirations but is a Mr. Milktoast, a man whose teeth fell out of his head due to nerves.  As James learns he is being replaced on the campaign, his emotions become unhinged. He becomes Michael Douglas in "Falling Down."  I even half expected him to break out into "Rose's Turn" from Gypsy as he talks about always being the responsible one and he demands “I want my share of the spoils.”  Mr. Sutherland shows great range in this character as he goes from the unassuming quiet man to a man ravaged by the indignity of getting less out of life than he thinks he’s owed.

Chris Noth is Phil, a lady’s man who has gotten through life on his good looks, and the lucrative strip mining operation his father left him.  He's married but sleeping with George's wife, a fact that is revealed to George during the course of the evening. Mr. Noth was adequate as Phil but seemed to lack a true emotional connection to the character.

James' brother Tom (Jason Patric, the son of the playwright) is the member of the group who hasn't shown up to several reunions due to his wanderlust and a problem with substance abuse.  The drunker he gets the more antagonistic he becomes. He stopped buying the Coach's load of crap a long time ago.  He’s the one that got out and saw the world as it truly is.  Mr. Patric believably delivers as his character starts the play sober but gets fall-down-drunk by the end.

Michael Yeargan’s set for the Coach’s living room perfectly matches the dated nature of this piece.  Gregory Mosher’s direction keeps the play moving with plenty of structure provided by the playwright.  I’m not sure that this would have been the first play I would have chosen to revive.  James says “we can’t sit around fingering the past,” yet that’s precisely all this play and these characters do.  The play showcases a macho mind-set with blatant racism that make it feel dated and uncomfortable.  

Memorable Lines:

You quit on the field, you'll quit in life.
--Coach

You can't kill a mountain. Mountains grow back.
--Strip Miner, Phil on his role in destroying the environment

Additional Info

  • Theatre: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 242 West 45th St. New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Play
  • Previews:: February 9, 2011
  • Opening Night: March 6, 2011
  • Closing: May 29, 2011
Last modified on Saturday, 26 March 2011 19:40

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