The Ridgelea Reports on Theatre
"That Championship Season" at the Westport Playhouse
Eugenics in Westport - a construct that lumbers on...
The fine production of Jason Miller’s “That Championship Season” at the Westport Playhouse is a chilling reminder of the way things were, and how old ideas survive rather than adjust. The story of the play revolves around the memories of a coach and his high school basketball team of winning the state championship in Pennsylvania years ago. It is now mid seventies and the winning team has lost their physical appeal, but they have an annual reunion to re-do their teamwork and celebrate their loyalty to the coach. Lubricated with lots of alcohol they rehearse the old win, and plan for petty politics in the coal-region town they still inhabit.
In the process they also get to the uneasy bottom of the values they are stuck with. George is the mayor of the town but doesn’t have anything more than ego with which to campaign for the next election, and a JEW has moved in to challenge him. Phil has a lot of money made from scraping the mountains down to the coal fields, and has recently been “humping” George’ wife. James - the most educated but least secure (money-wise) of the team - thinks maybe she was trying to help George by messing around with Phil. Tom - Jim’s brother - is a real drunk, but in the conversations his observations are closest to the truth. The coach’s own memories of the big game have sustained him ever since: how he pushed his boys to work together, and do whatever they needed to do to win. That reminds him of how the game is going to the niggers and the world is going to the Jews and the dogs.
The stuck place that inhabits these guys in thoroughly uncomfortable for the audience (or so I hope - one woman clapped so bizarrely at the opening that it scared me), but there is a little resolution near the end when Coach forces Phil to apologize to George and they hug each other, and even Tom wakes enough to join in helping George to attack the JEW in his next campaign. ‘We’re all together again...’ seems like it will hold them up for another year.
“That Championship Season” is a picture of a time that really was, in a place that still is, and as painful as it is to contemplate, the non-thinking world may still be motivated by its values. An open (or unfinished) gestalt of stale influences and awkward behaviors.
The actors are terrific; the set is handsome; it’s hard to visit this production and not think about it for days that follow, even if it doesn’t seem like fun. Good reasons to see it.
The artistic director of the Playhouse, Mark Lamos, directed “That Championship Season” and will also direct David Hare’s “Breath of Life,” which will begin previews on September 29. Lamos sounds excited about the play, which some may recall was a sell-out in the West End largely because it brought Judith Dench and Maggie Smith onto the same stage. The Westport production will star two famous American actors: Jane Alexander and Stockard Channing. It’s a slightly boring story of a wife and a mistress of the same man meeting for the first time, and complaining together about his newest infatuation. So be prepared again to admire the actors and wonder what’s so great about the play?
www.westportplayhouse.org for tickets and schedules.
Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre