Dating the Basketball Team

Last fall’s rumor mill hinted that heavy-hitting Liev Schreiber would star in a Broadway revival of Jason Miller’s “That Championship Season.” But “Season,” which sketches former basketball buddies some 25 years removed from their glory days, was deemed “dated” by Schreiber, and his roll went to the actor/comedian Jim Gaffigan.

“Dated.”

It’s certainly a word worth considering here — the characters’ rampant racism and anti-Semitism firmly plant the play in a decidedly pre-PC era. (That awesome, retro tube-TV helps, too.)

As for perspective: “Season’s” formula (sublimated anger + alcohol + eaaaarly morning) is a pretty standard and workable setup. Just look at classics like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “The Iceman Cometh,” or “The Seafarer” — angry, boozy, sleepy people are pretty mesmerizing.

“Season’s” particular Evening of Reckoning looks something like this: The former teammates converge on their old coach’s bachelor pad for a reunion. Buddy hugs are exchanged, stewing rivalries are revealed, and vomit is spewn. That “championship” season might not have been so pure, after all.

But those jokes! The play seems to want us to laugh along until the explosive finale, when the team’s dirty little secret is exposed and the coarse humor is subverted. But, to this contemporary audience member, laughing along doesn’t feel quite right from the very outset.

Maybe it really did in 1972, when “Season” first opened and received the Pulitzer Prize for drama. But who’s to know? All that’s certain is that where and when our sympathies emerge has certainly evolved since “Season’s” premier.

And yet — isn’t the question sort of irrelevant? With such in-the-moment performances (particularly from Kiefer Southerland and Jason Patric, the late playwright’s son) “Season’s” acting is the real star.

Just watch Patric’s juiced silence. He broods and drinks, drinks and broods, falling down a staircase and snidely throwing zingers at his compatriots… until the exciting finale when he unmasks the group’s central lie. It’s a great moment of truth telling from a fascinating performer.

“Dated?” Hardly.

————

POST SCRIPT. Check out Kenneth Turan’s “Free For All.” “Season’s” original production at the Public Theater gets a particularly exciting treatment in this remarkable book. Turns out the cast hated each other almost as much as the characters did.

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