Tuesday, March 8, 2011

That Championship Season @ Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

Let the basketball talk begin, booze flow, and secrets come out. The 1973 Pulitzer Prize, Drama Critics Circle, and Tony awards winner, That Championship Season (written by Jason Miller), has returned to Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. With a stellar cast featuring the likes of Kiefer Sutherland and Brian Cox, this revival refuses to hold back, constantly throwing its message in the audience face. It is about winning – no matter what it takes. Unfortunately, this production with great performances and design falls just short of that game winning basket leaving the audience somewhat bewildered has to how exactly to relate to this somewhat dated piece.
That Championship Season tells the story of four middle aged men and their high-school basketball coach on the night of their yearly reunion. Each one of these men has something that they are desperately trying to hold on to in order to survive in a world that only accepts winners. George Sikowski (played by Jim Gaffigan) is the mayor of the town in which the reunion takes place. George, who has recently lost a child, is currently planning his campaign for re-election. Phil Romano (played by Chris Noth) is the typical two-timing business man who lives for money, cars, and married woman. Brothers Tom and James Daley (played respectively by Jason Patric and Kiefer Sutherland) are battling problems all their own. Tom is a raging alcoholic while James, a high school principle, is simply fighting to be noticed. The last of these men is Coach (played by Brian Cox), fresh off a forced retirement, is desperately trying to bring his team back together to have yet another championship on his hands – this time the election of George. As the night trucks on, more and more secrets begin to come out as the liquor slowly begins to disappear.
This starry ensemble does not fail to disappoint. All five actors give extremely powerful and heartfelt performances. Jim Gaffigan (stand-up comedian of the films Going the Distance and It’s Kind of a Funny Story) as George gives a hilarious and moving performance in his Broadway debut. In a role that goes from funny to dramatic faster than one can imagine, Gaffigan finds the perfect flow and tackles this role with ease and grace. It is very possible that this Broadway debut will earn Gaffigan a Tony Award nomination. Chris Noth (known for his work on the small screen in Sex and the City and The Good Wife) is perfect as the back stabbing business man Phil. Looking out for only himself by sleeping with friends’ wives and throwing friends’ under the bus, Phil is not an easy character to like; however, Noth found the sympatric side of this character. At one point in the production, Noth’s character breaks into full tears leaving the audience feeling sorry for this typical business man. Jason Patric (seen on Broadway in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he is also son to That Championship Season’s playwright) has Tom and Kiefer Sutherland (known for his many years on the hit television show 24) as James portray brothers that are night and day. Patric plays the alcoholic brother that, as usual, is the only one at the reunion who knows how to speak the truth. His performance is absolutely wonderful – going against the grain to portray the typical drunk. Sutherland does not hold back as the brother who just for once wants things to go his way. His performance was strong and very emotional; he had the audience rooting for him from line one and crushed when he was defeated on the end line. The cast is rounded out perfectly by Brian Cox (known for his work in such films as Braveheart and Red) as the desperate Coach. Cox takes the audience on a roller coaster of different emotions from sympathy to disgust and right back to sympathy. It is a performance that is truly not to be missed – especially when backed by those four other truly talented men.
That Championship Season takes shape technically with stunning designs from some Broadway greats. The play takes shape with a gorgeous scenic design from Michael Yeargan (Tony Award winner for designs for The Light in the Piazza and South Pacific). The 1970s are fully realized in the perfect stylized living room complete with one the first television sets and a rattling radiator. This set was lit with a great lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski (represent on Broadway right now with designs for Driving Miss Daisy and Anything Goes). The lights were placed with care to light every old time championship photo and stained glass window. The foul comes in the directing of this revival. Gregory Mosher (seen last season on Broadway with A View From the Bridge) left his cast a bit too typical – with constant up and down to create different levels and awkward blocking. Unfortunately, this one and only technical flaw causes some distress and interrupts this classic game.
That Championship Season storms back onto Broadway with many strong points – a great cast and wonderful design elements. While the play might be outdated, the performances are soon to not be forgotten. This is truly an actor’s championship season!

Review By: James Russo & Ryan Oliveti


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