Review: Actors' skills fuel disquieting 'Season'

| Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009

The men of "That Championship Season" are neither a happy nor a likable bunch.

Twenty years after winning the state high-school basketball championship, they are mired in mid-life angst and self-pity, fueled by anger and bigotry and stifled by small-town life.

As they gather at their coach's home for yet another reunion, it quickly becomes clear that the long-ago win was the peak moment of their lives. The lesson learned was that winning was important, not what you did to achieve the win.

That philosophy is embedded in some of their marginal successes — George is the town's mayor, Phil is a wealthy businessman. But their biggest accomplishments seem to be the ability to practice self-deception and reframe reality.

First performed Off-Broadway in 1972, Jason Miller's play won the 1973 Tony for best drama as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama. It's a biting, often funny indictment of the American belief that winning isn't just the most important thing, it's the only thing.

It's a difficult play to watch.

When the play debuted, many of the men's attitudes about race, women, sex, politics, ethnicity and double-dealing were already becoming outmoded. Nearly four decades later, they're even more offensive. They generate an abundance of uneasy laughter throughout the proceedings.

The production now being performed by the Rep, the professional theater company of Point Park University, succeeds largely because of a talented cast of actors who turn in exemplary performances individually and as an ensemble.

Heading the cast is Robert Haley as Coach, a long-retired teacher who dedicated his life to his students and now finds himself near the end of his life with no direction or purpose and unable to understand changes in society taking place around him.

Philip Winters plays George Sikowski, the town's incompetent mayor facing a tough opponent in the coming election. Daryll Heysham's Phil Romano is a sleazy businessman and unrepentant womanizer.

The most sympathetic of characters are David Cabot's James Daley, a junior high-school principal with dreams of a political future of his own, and Jarrod DiGiorgi as the alcoholic Tom Daley.

Though you might not want to socialize with any of these characters, you do come to feel compassion for the sadness, secrets, compromises, regrets and losses that each holds within.

Director Ronald Allan-Lindblom injects deft pacing, moving the story forward at a good pace yet lingering on an individual moment where appropriate.

Set designer Michael Thomas Essad supports both the period and spirit of the play with a detailed and neatly decorated environment including the over-sized and aging trophy at the heart of the action.

Additional Information:

'That Championship Season'

Produced by: The Rep

When: Through Sunday with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $24-$27

Where: The Rauh Theatre, Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland

Details: 412-621-4445 or online

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