“That Championship Season” looks back on a winning team 25 years later – men whose lives are stuck in memories of past glory.

Marlin May and Jim Valone provide gut-wrenching performances in Bas Bleu production.

Reviewed by Tom Jones February 10, 2017

The fictional local Catholic high school basketball team in Scranton, Pennsylvania, won the State Championship 1952. Twenty-five years later four of the team starters gather at the coach’s home to pay him their respects and to relive memories of their long-ago success. Time hasn’t been good to them. Their coach appears to be dying. One of the players is an alcoholic drifter. His brother is a junior high school principal who has helped others throughout his life, and now wants to do something “important,” but has no support. Another is the town mayor desperate to keep his political power. The wealthy player remains wealthy, but has apparently had a romantic dalliance with another player’s wife. The town’s economy is in shambles Political intrigue is rampant. Egos are out of control. Power is the goal. Winning is everything. This is not a group that you would to invite into your home for a quiet evening of pleasant chatter. It is hard to imagine that 25 years earlier the men were a cohesive unit – claiming a last-minute victory from the jaws of defeat.

Photo Credit: William A. Cotton Photography

Playwright Jason Miller’s “That Championship Season,” opened on Off Broadway in 1972 where it received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It moved on to Broadway to win a host of honors. A movie version, released in 1982, starred Robert Mitchum as the Coach. The Fort Collins production is directed by Laura Jones whose work is well known to local audiences.

Jim Valone plays the Coach in the latter days of his life. That championship season has remained the highlight of his life, and he has a recording of the radio broadcast that he plays frequently. Each member of the team still recalls how the game concluded, as the winning basket was made in the final seconds. Marlin May is outstanding as the wealthy Romano. He tearfully acknowledges what really transpired in the game’s last moments – and the reason why the fifth starter of the winning team is not present this evening to reminisce. In fact, he hasn’t attended any of the reunions.

Photo Credit: William A. Cotton Photography

This is heavy stuff. The demanding coach had demands for everyone but himself. Life has not been good to him since the game that brought enthusiasm to the town 25 years earlier. Greg Clark portrays Tom Daley, the alcoholic with nothing going for him – but he is the person the audience ends up liking the most. He is excellent. L. Michael Scovel is James Daley, the high school principal and brother to the alcoholic, Tom. Daley is adrift in an unfulfilled life. Jack Krause portrays George Sikowski the town mayor in a fierce battle for re-election, trying to stay ahead of a local Jewish businessman.

The set is the coach’s living room and is particularly effective. There are steps going up when the guys need to find a rest room for whatever purpose. There is the front porch where individuals can have one-on-one conversations away from the rest of the group.

Alcohol is prevalent, with alarming results as the evening progresses. Some men become ill, others revolting, but everyone is always interesting. “That Championship Season” is a microcosmic look at America of the 1950s – a somewhat horrifying reminder that our culture and civilization haven’t changed all that much in more than half a century. The memories of watching guys talking about their past success has lingered with me – rejoicing that I’m not required to live in memories of a one-time glory, when winning was everything.

“That Championship Season”
Where: Bas Bleu Theatre
401 Pine Street
Fort Collins, CO 80524-2433
When: Through March 5, 2017
Tickets: 970/498-8940
Online:  basbleu.org

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