Small-town discontent is at the heart of That Championship Season, but in this revival, there are no small names to be found in the cast. Kiefer Sutherland, Chris Noth, Jason Patric, and Jim Gaffigan play unhappy former high school basketball teammates who reunite with their coach (Brian Cox) to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their state championship win. Yet instead of cheerful reminiscing, tempers (and lots of booze) spill over.
Normally, this formula makes for guaranteed entertainment, a la August: Osage County or the film The Big Chill. Yet Championship Season feels a little too playwriting-by-numbers. Everyone has their own specific hangup: Sutherland is a school principal who feels that he lacks power; Patric is Sutherland’s alcoholic brother who sneers disapprovingly at everyone; Noth is tired of being valued only for his wealth, and he’s a womanizer; Gaffigan is the mayor who lacks brains, and he knows it. The problem is that with four troubled characters (and a quartet of heavyweight actors playing them), no one gets enough time to fully-develop their issues.
Cox’s Coach is the puppet master who takes credit for shaping the lives of these men (although not so much their flaws, which has his name all over them too). Since the focus is too divided among the four former teammates, Coach’s character is the one in which playwright Jason Miller gets to dig the deepest. With his reverence for Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Senator Joseph McCarthy, and his wild racism that bubbles beneath the surface, it is evident that Coach planted many of his personal seeds in his pseudo sons. Perhaps more interesting is Coach’s disapproval for the men’s appalling behavior, and subsequent blindness to his contribution to it. Read more