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That Championship Season

Brian Cox, Jim Gaffigan, Chris Noth, Jason Patric, and Kiefer Sutherland bring Jason Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama to urgent and abrasive life.

By New York City
Brian Cox, Jason Patric, Jim Gaffigan
Chris Noth, and Kiefer Sutherland
in That Championship Season
(© Joan Marcus)
Brian Cox, Jason Patric, Jim Gaffigan
Chris Noth, and Kiefer Sutherland
in That Championship Season
(© Joan Marcus)
If the demise of Fox's 24 is what has freed Kiefer Sutherland to finally make it to Broadway -- in Gregory Mosher's immaculately gritty revival of Jason Miller's award-winning 1972 drama That Championship Season, now at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre -- then those die-hard series fans should much less deprived. Aided by co-stars Brian Cox, Jim Gaffigan, Chris Noth, and Jason Patric, the cast brings this emotinally charged drama to urgent and abrasive life.

The play is set during the 20th reunion of a championship Pennsylvania high school basketball team (at a time when relatively short men could compete victoriously), where the group engages in alcohol-aided bonding at the home of their now-retired and off-handedly bigoted coach (Cox). While most of the men still live in the same town -- and are interconnnected in their daily lives -- during the few crucial hours they spend together on this fateful night, both old and new secrets force their way to glaring light.

Indeed, it's instantly apparent as the action inexorably unfolds in Michael Yeargan's version of an aging Victorian living-room that the affability on hand will soon falter. Moreover,there will be no let-up until the private miseries every character maladroitly harbors is exposed. When going after his quintet of protagonists -- and frequently contriving awkwardly to get them off stage so others can talk about them -- Miller is also so intent on unleashing convictions about the All-American American male having feet of clay that he hammers relentlessly at it.

While Miller refused to cover his iron fist with a velvet glove, he has nevertheless provide the actors to hone their sharpened craft Wearing heavy-rimmed glasses and, initially, a pork-pie hat, Sutherland is totally convincing as James, a high school teacher haunted by the belief he's become anonymous. As his booze-addicted brother Tom, the brilliant Patric (the son of playwright Miller) serves up so many small quirks that it's impossible not to watch him moment by moment for what he'll do next.

Noth is impresive as Phil, a ruthless businessman grabbing all the loot he can running a strip-mining outfit. (Whether he is ideal casting as an Italian Lothario may be in question.) Gaffigan gets the dull, baffled George, the town's ineffectual mayor, absolutely right; and Cox brings off his usual theatrical-magic trick as the coach -- and not least when pulling up his vest and shirt to expose the angry-red vertical scar he carries from recent and not necessarily successful surgery.

Miller meant the play's title to be ironic, but the opportunities the work offers actors like these is definitely a championship effort.


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