Jason Miller’s That Championship Season was regarded as one of the more important plays of its time. In addition to reflecting the emptiness of America’s emphasis on winning and other suspect values, the play was also regarded as the kind of quintessential American drama Broadway should have been producing, but was not. That Championship Season made its debut off-Broadway at the Estelle Newman/Public Theatre on May 2, 1972, where it ran for 144 performances. The production was then moved to the Booth Theatre on Broadway, where it ran for an additional 844 performances. The play ran for a total of 988 performances before it closed on April 21, 1974.
That Championship Season was only the second full-length play Miller had written, and it was by far his most successful. Miller was primarily an actor, who wrote plays on the side. For this play, which lifted him out of obscurity, Miller won numerous awards, including the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Play, Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Playwright, and Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Playwriting Award, all in 1972. Miller also won the Antoinette Perry Award (the Tony) for best play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1973. In the early 1980s, he later adapted the play into a movie, which he directed.
From its earliest productions, That Championship Season was widely praised by critics, though a few dissenters had problems with certain aspects of the play. Those who like the play compliment its humor, dialogue, and characters. Reviewing the Broadway production, Clive Barnes of the New York Times writes, ‘‘Mr. Miller has a perfect ear and instinct for the rough and tumble profanity of locker- room humor. The coarsely elegant gibes go along with Mr. Miller’s indictment of a society, which opens with an ironic playing of the National Anthem and then lacerates the sickness of small-town America full of bigotry, double-dealing, racism and hate.’’
That Championship Season opens in Coach’s decaying living room. He is hosting a reunion of the high school basketball team he coached to a championship about twenty years ago. Tom Daley and George Sikowski are in the room, catching up. Tom has come from out of town for the reunion, while George is now the hometown mayor. Tom drinks heavily.
George worries about his upcoming reelection campaign, and derides his opponent, Norman Sharmen. They talk about the Coach, who recently had an operation. George believes that he owes his mayorship to the Coach’s influence. The pair wishes that Martin would have come to the reunion. Martin was the best player among them, but he has never returned.
George tells Tom that Phil Romano, one of their teammates and a rich businessman, will be contributing a big sum to his campaign in return for a favorable land lease. James Daley (Tom’s elder brother), Phil, and Coach finally return with food and drink. Coach is happy to see all of them.
The Coach equates their team effort to get George elected with their winning the championship. The Coach tells all of them how proud he is of their accomplishments. James tells the Coach that he helped them succeed. The conversation turns to the current lack of respect in the country. When Tom leaves to use the bathroom, those who remain discuss his alcoholic state. While the Coach wants to put Tom to work on George’s campaign, James informs them that his brother is leaving town.
Phil tells George that he might not be easily reelected. Among other things, George has raised taxes, and some local plants will be closing soon. James defends George. George cannot see that he has failed in some areas, including the purchase of an elephant for the local zoo that died ten days later, and that he might not be able to win again. George is defensive.
Coach finds it hard to tolerate the dissension in the room. He derides it as well as the dissension that has been growing in the United States. As Coach grows more agitated, he suffers severe pain related to his recent surgery. George helps him upstairs.
When the pair is gone, Phil tells James and Tom that George has no chance to be reelected. James asks Phil if he does not support George because Phil is having an affair with George’s wife, Marion. James threatens to reveal this, reminding Phil that his business will be destroyed if George is not reelected. Phil tells James that he might contribute to the campaign of George’s opponent, Sharmen. Because Phil does not believe George has what it takes to become mayor, James offers himself up as an alternate candidate. James has political aspirations of his own. Phil belittles James’s idea.
James informs George that Phil might not support his campaign. George has an important piece of information on Sharmen. Sharmen’s uncle was a communist in the 1950s. Phil does not believe it will change anything. Phil reminds them that his money got George elected in the first place. James insists that his campaign work was just as important as the money, and he tells George that Phil has been...
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