photo courtesy of Andrea Markowski
Here’s another great review for That Championship Season by The Culture Buzz host John Busbee.
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Powerful theatre trifecta: direction, cast, scenic design
A theatre review by John Busbee
Des Moines, Iowa
April 21, 2013
Repertory Theatre of Iowa (RTI) continues to add exceptional blocks to its growing performing arts legacy wall with their current production, “That Championship Season.” Jason Miller’s pithy script is dense material, harkening to a harsher, more visceral time in America. RTI’s ability to find such gems and deliver such theatrical excellence is a blessing for Iowans savoring thought-provoking stage work.
“That Championship Season” is Miller’s 1972 play, a gritty story about the twenty year reunion of the Scranton, Pennsylvania state championship team of 1952. Winner of the 1973 Pulitzer Prize as well as that year’s New York Drama Critics’ Choice, Drama Desk and Tony Award for Best Play, this show ran for 700 performances on Broadway.
Four members of the championship team starting lineup continue their reunion tradition with their coach, now suffering from a terminal illness. Martin, the fifth member, refuses to attend, with the reason revealed at the end of the show. The others cope with what life has dealt them, with the layers of their flaws and malcontent unveiling as the flow of liquor loosens their filters of civility. Even their anchor, the Coach, doesn’t seem to rule with the same iron-fistedness as he once did. Each character is steeped in prejudices and personal maneuverings, with ever-shifting alliances and intentions often escalating to vicious encounters. The reunion’s traditional closing with the replay of the announcer’s play-by-play of the game-winning shot seems to be the one intervention to reunite the team into a bearable truce.
Director Tom Woldt’s superb cast, one of the finest complete ensembles in recent memories, washes the stage with ever-shifting movement and focus. This production crackles with an intensity thanks to Woldt’s cast delivering Miller’s language so effectively. Each actor not only immerses himself into his character completely, but the interplay between all rings genuine, as if we were privy to a volatile reunion between a bigoted autocrat coach and “his boys.” Miller’s directness with prejudices and language make many squirm, and laughter often comes from an uncomfortable reaction to blatant racism as from the comedy of man’s ways. All in all, this is brilliant material delivered brilliantly.
As George Sitkowski, the town’s mayor, John Earl Robinson brings a richly layered character to life as he continually validates his life’s achievements, especially preparing for the next mayoral election. Tom Daley, played with impeccable timing by Craig Petersen, is the cynical alcoholic n’er-do-well, but never at a loss for delivering the perfect dagger in any given situation. Tom’s brother, James, is played with an initial poise by Jonathan Delima, a poise that quickly reduces when his status in this team relationship seems destined to be undermined. Shawn Wilson, as the blustering Italian strip-mining millionaire, grabs his role with an entitled ferocity, bulldozing his way to whatever he wants…or, so he thinks. As the curmudeony sovereign leader of the championship team, The Coach is brought to irascible crustiness by Richard Maynard. His unforgiving superiority over those he thinks as his lesser – African-Americans and Jews in particular, although much less appropriate terms are used – give him a foul-tasting holdover from another era as he manipulates and controls “his boys,” basking in the decades old afterglow of that championship as someone trying to savor the last rays of a day’s fading sunlight.
The visual aspect of this show is incredible. Perhaps the hallmark of a superior scenic designer is when he transforms a space, with limited resources, into a special world of drama. Master Designer Jay Michael Jagim conjures a design for “That Championship Season” that alone is worth the price of admission! This design epitomizes the “less is more” adage, using “white” space behind walls and book shelves, with a seeming depthless effect behind his set, enhanced by exquisite lighting, giving an other-worldliness that is captivating. The impact of this design enhances the story and ensemble wonderfully.
RTI’s “That Championship Season” will long be a hallmark production discussed in Central Iowa, and you will regret not having seen this show. So, be sure to do so before it closes May 5th.