Even though Jason Miller’s THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON won the Pulitizer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play in 1973, you don’t see it performed too often. The 2011 Broadway revival, starring big names like Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, and Chris Noth, met with a so-so reception. It’s probably one of the most intense plays you’ll ever see, with a lot of foul language, racial slurs, infidelity, and almost two hours of people screaming at each other. As John Henken says in his director’s notes, “Miller pulls no punches and neither do we.” Veteran actor/director Steve Arcidiacono (Coach) even goes so far to say “It’s the script, not my opinion – please don’t beat me up in the parking lot.” Needless to say….audiences beware.
Set in 1972 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the entire play takes place on one night with one set, the Coach’s home. Scenic designer Rusty Muglia did a masterful job with the beautiful space he created. Twenty years ago, the Coach led his basketball team to a state championship game; now ex-players George (Bryan Ramona), Phil (Jeff Cronin), and brothers James (Ryan Neff) and Tom (Paul Recupero) have come back to reminisce. The Coach is very ill, and this may be the last time they all get together. The audience quickly comes to realize that every single one of them has issues. George, the town’s unpopular mayor, is fighting a losing battle for re-election. Phil is very wealthy but is having an affair with George’s wife. James is trying to get his political career going, but right now, he is “just” a junior high school principal. And alcoholic Tom is just trying to put one foot in front of the other every day. As the evening progresses, the players see that maybe the Coach isn’t the “god” they’ve made him out to be.
Arcidiacono shows that he’s been performing for more than 36 years, especially during his final monologue. He goes completely inside himself as the players look on absolutely horrified at his rant. Ramona, Cronin, and Neff play their parts effectively, but there were a few lines that were very overacted. This play absolutely belongs to Recupero however, who just watches everything in front of him in utter amusement. He is completely natural and never loses character, even when he isn’t the one speaking on stage. He is mesmerizing when he tells the story of why another player isn’t attending the reunion and is the only one of them all who refuses to put Coach on a pedestal.
THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON is certainly not a likeable play by any stretch, as the crude language, toilet humor, and especially racial slurs get very old and uncomfortable. While Miller set it during a time of major unrest in the country, the play doesn’t modernize well, so the audience must remember that prejudice was very common back then. However, standout performances are always timeless.
THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON
By Jason Miller
Directed by John Henken
June 14 – 22, 2013
The Dramateurs, Inc.
at The Barn Playhouse
1600 Christopher St
Jeffersonville, PA 19403