THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON
By Roz Friedman
At the Westport Country Playhouse, I attended the opening night of “That Championship Season” on August 29th and left early the next day for a long overdue vacation. I had only time to file a short paragraph with the press rep of the theater.
It read: We usually think of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play as something special, a work that is better than most. What a disappointment! I had never seen or read “That Championship Season” by Jason Miller, and I was looking forward to it. However, I found the play, performed for 90 minutes without intermission, crude, limited and terribly dated. As in many works that deal with bigotry, the characters use foul language and most base stereotypical expressions. Of course, in this case, we are supposed to see through their wasted and sad lives as an excuse for their disgusting behavior. But in this case, there are no redeeming elements, and listening to this kind of racist and anti-Semitic stuff is repulsive. The acting is at best mediocre; while the direction by Mark Lamos is fine, I question his choice of this play for his first one of the new season.
This is the rest of my review. It is the 1970’s. On David Gallo’s set, which looked, as my husband so aptly put it, as if it were a living room used for every mystery we’ve ever seen at the playhouse, 4 men are having a reunion with their Coach, a man with no life, played by John Doman. His heroes are the hateful Senator form Wisconsin, McCarthy, and the hate monger, Father Coughlin. The men were members of a winning basketball team 20 years before. Since that time, they have not enjoyed anything quite as much. Robert Clohessy comes close to capturing the part of George Sikowski, the hapless Mayor of Lackawanna Valley, Pennsylvania. He’s admittedly done some pretty dumb things in his job and is being challenged in the upcoming election by a bright young man, who happens to be Jewish. That fact encourages the group to make lots of bad religious jokes and slurs, when they are not reminiscing about gang-raping a retarded girl and/or calling the best player on the opposing team, the "N" word.
Skip Sudduth, one of my favorite actors who seems adrift here, is the cheating Phil Romano, who is having an affair with his best friend’s wife. The best friend happens to be the Mayor. Lou Liberatore is the very needy James, a high school principal, who is George’s campaign manager. James, short, dark-haired and stocky, has a brother, Tom, who looks nothing like him. Tom Nelis, thin as a reed, plays this alcoholic writer with good sardonic flair, and we find ourselves rooting for him when he tries to tell the group off. He even reminds them that the fifth guy has never attended any of their reunions.
Tom’s protests falls on deaf ears and he caves in; so does “That Championship Season.” Noone wins on this one. It will play through September 12th at the Westport Country Playhouse.
This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS RADIO