Del Ray Sun
Championship Season: Another Winner for TACT
By Robbie Thornton
The last show was estrogen; this one is
testosterone, David Siegel said before the curtain went up
on That Championship Season.
The American Century Theater marketing
director was not exaggerating. It was the kind of locker room
jock talk that drove us to theater criticism in the first
place. We were often uncomfortable because of the strong language,
but without it, the piece would have been unbelievable.
That Championship Season is a tragedy,
if not in the classical sense of a hero who has been bright
low, then in the sense of the sadness of high school jocks
who come to the realization that their lives had peaked when
they were eighteen, and everything after has been slow degradation.
In this case, the decline is made worse
through several revelations, among them one that tarnishes
the gold trophy and everything it represents.
The year is 1972 and Vietnam is the
of the day, when four members of a championship basketball
team gather at the home of their coach (Elliot Moffitt). As
the play proceeds, the coach, hero-mentor to his middle-aged
boys, slips and then topples from his pedestal in a powerful
and moving final speech.
In his customarily illuminating audience
guide, Artistic Director Jack Marshall makes much of the nontraditional
casting that has transformed this cast of white rednecks to
an all-black cast. That spotlight on the racial composition
of the cast is unfortunate in that these actors carry it off
with such aplomb and credibility that it is easy for the audience
to believe it was meant to be so. In fact, their being black
makes it much easier to accept racial epithets that would
otherwise likely have provoked more squirming that the use
of what those of us who have reached a certain level of sophistication
call the f-word.
Despite some minor weaknessesabout which
we will have only a few wordsthis is a strong production.
The cast works together like fine clockwork, although Tom
(Joseph Mills III) won us over from almost his first words.
A deep clear voice and laconic style riveted attention on
the man who became the groups token alcoholic. His timing
is impeccable and he wears his cynicism like a badge of honor.
Despite, or maybe through, his cynicism and his alcoholic
haze, Tom is usually the voice of reason.
Probably the weakest link is Phil (Omar
A. Bah) who is less than convincing as a hard-nosed businessman.
Although he has some bright moments, his distasteful character,
both pragmatic and lecherous, fits him like a sharpeis skin.
Michael Switalskis set is 1970s lake cottage,
which seems right enough, (The television and portable stereo
cold have been taken from our own home at the time.) the only
off notes being a slapdash paint job that simply did not work
and some wall accents that didnt make sense to us. The flat
behind the stairs also seemed to have been attached with masking
tape, an unnecessary distraction from an otherwise convincing
James (Ron Lincoln) is earnest and decent,
but as the play unfolds, we realize that he suffers the same
doubts, the same sense of nagging mediocrity that plagues
all of his teammates.
Finally, almost, George Sikes (Morgan James
Hall) is the weak mayor, full of bombast and arrogance. He
seems to be the only one who doesnt grasp that no one takes
From early in the show, mysterious allusions
to the absent Martin, raise questions about why he consistently
shuns the annual gathering. The only tem member never to come,
references to his absence become increasingly ominous. Was
he killed in Vietnam
or is there even a darker reason that he chooses to avoid
the coach who has sacrificed marriage for the sake of his
At bottom, it is worse for the team than
either of the above scenarios. Martins absence looms over
the room because it makes more pronounced their avoidance
of a devastating truth, not a concept with which anyone on
this championship team is on familiar terms. As the secret
to us if not the characters --is revealed the play becomes
a Full-Monty version of Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Maybe Toms line captures the theme of
the play or at least the relationships among these men:
If I had some wits, some guts and some anger, Id tear your
Despite the somber overtones and the turmoil
that is never far below the surface, That Championship Season
is accented with humor and realism; it is unpleasantly honest
as pretenses are stripped away and nothing remains but the
ugly naked truth of middle-aged men who know each others
As the characters speak, we are aware of
how easy it is to blame everyone else for our own failings,
even as the awesome coach towers over the lesser mortals unabashed
by his own failings and commanding blind respect from his
boys, even when it becomes clear that he doesnt deserve it.
That Championship Season is a sobering
play, entertaining and thought-provoking for those who dont
shy away from the kind of truth that makes people of conscience
wince. We know these men, and in many ugly ways they recall
Pogos famous words: We have met the enemy and he is us.
For curiosity value, we note that Pulitzer
Prize winning playwright Jason Miller is best remembered for
portraying Father Damien Karras in The Exorcist.
The late Mr. Miller and his wife, Linda Gleason, daughter
of legendary comedic actor Jackie Gleason, were the parents
of Jason Patric.