Review by Tulis McCall
(11 Mar 2010)
One of the many many remarkable facts about theatre is that you never see the same performance twice. You could go, or be part of, the same production for umpteen nights in a row and each night would be different. In the same way, one can go to a show and see a new phenomena during a performance. Such was the case last night at That Championship Season. The phenomena was this: I watched a vacuum being created. The longer the show went on, the less of it was visible, until, at the end, nothing was left.
This is the story of a 20 year reunion for the core group from Fillmore High School Basketball team. In 1952 they won the Championship, and since that time they have been living in that trophy's wake. Now life has started to catch up to them, and the cards being dealt ain't pretty. Mostly, these men are just plain losers who have been seeing their own lives through rose colored glasses. They each spend a fair amount of time convincing themselves that everything is okay. A child is a talented athlete, a marriage is sound, a political career is not at risk, a health problem is not that serious, and that drinking too much/wanderlust thing is just temporary. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.
These are not extraordinary men with great virtues to defend. These are small town citizens with lives that are leaking ballast. In another minute, unless they find something to which they can attach themselves, they will float away like dandelion fluff. This is the moment when we meet them, and it is into this moment that Jason Miller invites us to step.
But with this production we are not allowed access to these men. We are kept firmly on the outside because none of these men are listening to one another, and if they aren't listening, why should we?
Well, not everyone falls victim to this haze. Jason Patrick, as Tom Daley, is laser-like as the lost soul who is getting drunk before our eyes. He sneaks up on you because he has so little to say, and at first you are following the characters with the lines. As that proves fruitless your eye wanders over to Patrick who is inhabiting a world all his own and soaking up every little thing that is supposed to be happening. As his brother, James, Keifer Sutherland surrenders himself to the sad little mench he is playing and gets stronger as his character gets weaker.
This leaves us with Brian Cox as the coach, Christ Noth as Phil Romano and Jim Gaffigan as George Sikowski. The three performances are simply astonishing in their lack of clarity and focus. The evening in question is supposed to be one where truths are exposed and battle lines drawn, but these men deliver their lines as if they were reading from a grocery list. There is no daring, no spark, and no spirit.
And this brings us to the direction or lack thereof. All of these actors seemed to care about their work; they just appeared not to know what to do up on that stage. I don't know why they didn't figure it out, since they are all seasoned performers, and must conclude that whatever direction they got from Mr. Mosher did nothing to help their plight. The blocking is awkward and unimaginative. These men polish off copious amounts of hard liquor with only one of them becoming the worse for wear. There are no guidelines. There are no signposts. These are lost actors trying to play lost men.
In the end, the only element of this production that was balanced and accurate was the clock on the upstage mantle. That little puppy kept perfect time, reminding us that what seemed like an eon lasted less than two hours.
What the popular press said...
"Appears to have been assembled according to the rule book of Playwriting 101."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"In the right hands, "That Championship Season" could be a bitter cautionary tale about prejudice and how achievements can rest on illusions. As it is, the final buzzer can't come soon enough."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Mosher hasn’t coaxed much more than whining and empty bluster from his cast."
Jeremy Gerald for Bloomberg
"Unfortunately, what emerges is a thinly written, awkwardly constructed melodrama."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"The play's final, dark revelation, about how the title game was actually won – and why the team's fifth, and best, starting player didn't show up for the reunion – is underwhelming."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"It’s a former winner that should have stayed in retirement."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"They fail to get under their characters' skin or the audience's in a play that seems past its expiration date."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"With so little dimension to the characters, it's hard to fault the thesps for their competent but superficial perfs."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...