That Championship Season, Red Hen Productions. Jason Miller’s play, about a group of former athletes who peaked in high school and decades later are suffering the disappointments of middle age, opened on Broadway in 1972 and ran for more than a year and a half–and won a Pulitzer. In retrospect it’s hard to see why. Miller was best known as an actor (he played the priest in The Exorcist), and he writes plays like an actor, providing plenty of opportunities for brooding and emoting and scenery chewing.
Miller is not a storyteller, however. The play unfolds at a snail’s pace, one unsurprising revelation after another: Tom is an alcoholic, George’s campaign to be reelected mayor is not going well, Phil is sleeping with George’s wife, George and Phil are conspiring to fire James from his position as George’s campaign manager. To make matters worse, Miller constantly tips his hand, telling us how we should feel about the characters. Phil is not just an adulterer, he also owns a strip mine. Coach is not just trapped in the past, he’s a racist hatemonger.
The current revival, directed by Steve Scott, accentuates everything that’s banal and clunky in the script. Emblematic of the problems with this stiff, soporific staging is the performance of WTTW’s golden-voiced Gene Janson as the crazed right-wing coach (played by Robert Mitchum in the 1982 movie): Janson seems to be conducting an on-air pledge drive.