Newly revived on Broadway, That Championship Season is Jason Miller‘s Pulitzer-winning 1972 play about a reunion of Pennsylvania high school basketball team members that ends up being a slam dunk into sourness.
The play doesn’t totally hold up, mainly because some of its melodramatic revelations now seem too calculated and they just aren’t all that shocking anymore (though I have to admit I was surprised by the liberal use of the c word. I should have paid more attention in 1972.)
A starry cast is helping provide some juice, though for patches of it, I felt they were playing the surface emotions without digging between the lines. Plus the direction had some of the play’s actions happening too quickly rather than mining them for real human responses and interplay.
But the play garners lots of laughs, features some solid writing, and it picks up steam, especially when Brian Cox gets to scream a lot as the coach who believes in winning at any cost.
As for his co-stars:
Chris Noth is appropriately smarmy as the amoral businessman who sleeps with people he shouldn’t.
Jim Gaffigan is good as the inept and apparently antisemitic mayor.
Kiefer Sutherland — the troubled teacher — was singled out in the Times review as superb, though you might not even notice him for a while; he’s a wispy little thing!
My personal fave was Jason Patric as Kiefer’s cynical alcoholic brother, who sees the truth in everything going on, even though he’s ostensibly falling down a lot.
Jason — whose dad wrote the play — is pretty riveting.
Dad (whose ashes are supposedly watching from an urn onstage) must be loving it.