Tuesday, July 17, 2007

That Championship Reading

Posted by Bruce Miller
We had a great time last night reading That Championship Season by Jason Miller in the Kilgore McAuley Library at Barksdale Willow Lawn. The reading was pulled together by Scott Wichmann. The late Jason Miller is the man who introduced Scott to theatre a couple decades ago. Miller is also the actor whom everyone knows for having played, brilliantly, the younger priest in the film The Exorcist.

In the 1980s, Scott was a mere lad of 12, and he and Miller both lived in Scranton, PA, setting of That Championship Season. More than a decade earlier, Miller had received tremendous national acclaim for writing Championship, which opened on Broadway in 1972 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in '73. Miller immediately followed that triumph by playing the younger of the two titular priests in The Exorcist, the most popular film of 1973. For his role in The Exorcist, Miller received an Oscar nomination. In the late 70s / early 80s, Miller chose to retreat from the limelight and return to his hometown of Scranton.

It was there that Miller directed a community theatre production of A Thousand Clowns, and Scott auditioned for the 12-year-old boy. It’s a GREAT part, one for which Scott was perfect, so of course he nailed it. It was Scott’s first show, and it was directed by one of the most nationally acclaimed playwrights and film actors of the time. Talk about fate.

Scott has never forgotten Jason Miller, and the two stayed in touch until Miller’s untimely death in 2001. One of the things the two had discussed was Scott’s desire to one day play the role of Tom, the cynical alcoholic in That Championship Season.

So last night, Scott called together some pals (Joe Inscoe, Larry Cook, Grant Mudge, and, of course, the current other half of Scott’s Odd Couple, Dave Bridgewater). They sat around the conference table acting their hearts out, drinking bottled water and eating Chex Mix. Phil Whiteway and I enjoyed the privilege of listening in.

All five men were terrific. The play reads beautifully today, and it reminded me how visceral 70s Broadway was. The language is intense. Five middle aged men assemble for the 20th Anniversary of a high school basketball triumph, and explore the limits of macho gamesmanship and the power of friendship and forgiveness. After the reading was over, we all talked about the messages of the play to a 21st Century audience.

I don’t know if Barksdale will produce a revival of Championship or not. After last night's powerful reading, we're certainly considering it.
Barksdale first produced the show at the Tavern in 1975 with Jay Lundy, Burt Edwards, Lloyd Shockley, Frank Howarth and William C. Smith. In the early '80s, the play was made into an acclaimed film, directed by Jason Miller, and starring Robert Mitchum. Martin Sheen, Stacy Keach, Bruce Dern and Paul Sorvino.

Thanks to Scott and his pals for bringing this searing classic back to life.
--Bruce Miller

1 comment:

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