That Championship Season Apr.14th, ’11

ny broadway

A great choice for a first day in New York. Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Chris Noth, Brian Cox, Jim Gaffigan and Jason Patrick That Championship Season by Jason Miller is a startling character study of how one step in the wrong direction really can screw up the lives of everyone involved.

For years now the basketball players who won that championship season some twenty years ago meet in the Coach’s house to celebrate. Now, in 1972, they pick apart their lives – and the more drunk they get, the more truths are revealed. There is the Mayor, who is preparing to get reelected. The spin doctor, who will make him win again. The businessman, who will finance the campaign, and the lost little brother, the youngest of the group, who with a little help will get his life back. And then there is Coach, who had a bad ulcer and is recovering from surgery.

But the businessman (Noth) fears for his investment, as the Mayor (Gaffigan) has no chance of winning again, the spin doctor (Sutherland) is actually a teacher and married with four kids, and only trying to get the Mayor reinstated. The Coach (Cox)  is full of racism and frustration and the little brother (Patrick) doesn’t care one bit about anything.

When it turns out that the Mayor’s wife slept with the businessman to get a donation, and they want to bring in a real spin doctor, ruining the teacher’s career in the process,  all their lives shatter into pieces, with ironically the alcoholic the only constant, as even Coach has his secrets and regrets of not being married and dying of cancer.

As it all comes down to one wrong decision – to injure the best player in the last game of the championship – and their lingering guilt about it they gather again, reinforcing their pact, keeping their secrets within their tight circle.

The play itself is a bit wordy, with intermission after only 20 minutes, and could use some tightening towards the end. But that was more than made up by the actors involved. Brian Cox is brilliant as the racist coach who ruthlessly pushed his team to success and still does. Chris Noth’s businessmen is every ounce a slimey money maker with no conscience at all, down to bedding 17 year olds and then shipping them to Mexico for an abortion. Jim Gaffigan gives the dimwitted Mayor a face and a voice – everything is politics.

And Kiefer Sutherland actually IS the weak, frustrated teacher and family man who lets himself get used and walked over by everybody, even knowing that he won’t ever have the career he is dreaming about. The way he is fiddling with his new “fake” teeth and defensively crossing his arms makes him look like a mouse desperately trying to play with the big boys.

Only his alcoholic younger brother (Jason Patrick) stays true to his destroyed life – but unfortunately Patrick is also the weakest of the actors involved. His sarcastic observations come across as desperately funny without actually being that funny, but that might also just be because he is surrounded by some really terrific actors.Which on the other hand was a pleasant surprise for me – after my recent experience with another TV-actor who obviously wasn’t cut out for a career on stage. But both Noth and Sutherland were absolutely brilliant in their parts – and made their pathetic loser characters absolutely believable.

*+*+*+*+*+*+*

I also couldn’t help myself – stage door beckoned and I found myself in the confines of iron gates once again. Chris Noth is every bit a leading man – jovial, funny, warm hearted – and unfortunately he mostly received obligatory “I loved you in SatC” calls – which is actually sad as his part there was rather one dimensional, while his stage character is layered and incredibly well played.

Kiefer Sutherland on the other hand seems to be a rather introverted man thoroughly enjoying his success – sober and incredibly well and fit looking he patiently wrote autographs and smiled into every phone shoved into his face. (I am a bit testy about this bit, as one fan was standing behind me, constantly screaming into my ear and almost deafening me, until she finally got the pic she wanted. My right ear still itches.)

Both – as well as the rest of the cast – come out after every show to tend to their fans – something I very much appreciate of course. So now I’m the proud owner of a signed program and very happy to have seen Sutherland and Noth live on stage.

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