That Championship Season
Also see Fred's review of White People
This is a five-person drama. A few decades earlier, a high school basketball Coach (John Doman) and his charges captured the state championship. Four of the men, now about forty years of age, gather in the coach's living room for a reunion. George Sikowski (Robert Clohessy) is mayor of the small Pennsylvania town and running for reelection. James Daley (Lou Liberatore) is a high school principal who wishes to climb the public school academic ladder. His brother Tom (Tom Nelis) is an alcoholic. Phil Romano (Skipp Sudduth), a businessman with bravado, admits that he has slept with George's wife. The only starter from the team who hasn't shown up is Martin, a man who evidently understood sportsmanship and fair play.
Coach, on the other hand, embodies the desire to win at any cost. Miller's script reveals a Coach who vocally expresses his disgust for Jews, for those thought to be Communists ... and more. Actor John Doman (familiar to many as William Rawls in the HBO series The Wire) is consistently loud and boorish. Sudduth's Phil Romano is one dimensional until the final act when he shows his character's more humane and emotional side. Tom eventually attempts to explain to the coach just why Martin has not been around for twenty years. Tom, even while drinking, is more cerebral (and skeptical) than the rest of the boys. James comes across as a weaker character whose own political dreams are fully dashed.
David Gallo's set for the performance space room is perfect. The furniture, props, and effects are faded - as is Jeff Nellis' appropriate lighting design. Ultimately, photographs are taken of the four former ballplayers and of Coach.
That Championship Season is a story of men whose best days might have been spent on a basketball court when they were adolescents. This is not all that uncommon. It is both sad and disturbing to see them gather years later. On stage, the men carry on quite a bit. Does anyone's future still hold promise?
Early on, more than one hook entices the viewer. There's plenty of impact and tension, too. Unfortunately, nothing is new. One hasn't much sympathy for any of the characters. Lamos, a fine director, pushes the action forward.
I coached some high school basketball during the early 1970s - a great experience. With great anticipation, I entered the theater to see one play I hadn't ever watched. While each actor has a special moment or two, Jason Miller's script is, these days, all too predictable to fully satisfy. It's not that anything lacks throughout the performance. The actors are seasoned and very much in command. One wishes for something new and/or different in the telling or showing as the plot unfolds.
That Championship Season continues at Westport Country Playhouse through September 12th. For ticket information, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org.
- Fred Sokol