Pulitzer Prize Winning Drama Opens ITC’s 32ND Season

Park Forest, IL—(ENEWSPF)— The Illinois Theatre Center of Park Forest will open their 2007-2008 season on September 21 with Jason Miller’s That Championship Season.  The play earned the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as the Tony Award and New York Drama Critics Award for Best Play.  Critics praised it as “the sort of play that keeps theatre nourishingly and honorably alive.”

The play is set in 1972 in a small town near Scranton, Pennsylvania, the playwright’s home town.  The coach and four former players of a high school basketball team that won the interstate championship 20 years earlier are gather for a reunion. This annual event celebrates a victory “that gave a defeated town something to be proud of”. 

Miller creates characters who are supposed to be the backbone of America, yet he reveals them to be weak, cowardly, bigoted, corrupt, and sustained by self-delusion. He displays a real understanding of these men. Having grown up in what was at that time a depressed, cultureless coal mining town, he is able to give the audience both an inside and outside view of these men and the world they live in.

The reunion takes place in the home of the now retired Coach.  He is the moral, social, and political mentor of his boys, and this is his only reason for being.  When one of his now 38-year-old former players says “Politics is not basketball”, he answers, “…you get the crowd behind you and you can’t lose.  Everybody loves a winner.”  He quotes his heroes, from Teddy Roosevelt to JFK.

The team members at the reunion include George Sikowski, the town’s mayor, who, with the coach’s help won the election by just 32 votes against an old drunk.  Phil Romano is the town’s richest businessman.  In high school, his buddies depended on him for the use of his car, and now they depend on his money to finance George’s campaign.  James Daley is a junior high school principal who has struggled to care for a dying father his own large family, and now his alcoholic brother Tom.  Drinking has turned Tom into one of those men who utters bitter, sardonic truths that a sober person would never dare say.  As the evening goes on, we see the unity of the former team dissolve into squabbling, insults, betrayal and near violence.

Jason Miller, an actor, director and playwright, was born in Queens, NY, in 1940. His parents moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania before he began school.  After earning a Masters Degree at Catholic University in Washing D.C., he settled in New York to pursue careers in acting and playwriting.  In 1973, the same year that That Championship Season earned the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award, Miller earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Father Damian in “The Exorcist”.

In the 1980’s Miller returned to Scranton to become Artistic Director of the Pennsylvania Summer Theatre Festival and the Scranton Public Theater.  Many of his later plays, including Barrymore’s Ghost and Nobody Hears A Broken Drum, premiered in the Scranton area.  Jason Miller died of heart failure in 2002.  His survivors include two ex-wives and four children, including actor Jason Patric.

The cast for That Champoinship Season includes ITC veterans Bernard Rice as The Coach and Peter Robel as Tom.  They are joined by newcomers Howie Johnson as George, Mark Stegman as Phil, and Tucker Curtis as James.  The production is directed by Etel Billig.

That Championship Season runs Friday, September 21 through Sunday, October 7.  Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, and Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 PM.  Tickets are priced at $21 on Fri. & Sat., and $19 at all other times.  There is a $1 discount for students & seniors.  The Illinois Theatre Center is located in Downtown Park Forest at 371 Artists Walk – off Indianwood Blvd. between Orchard and Western.  For tickets, call (708) 481-3510.  NOTE: The play contains explicit adult language and is not recommended for children under 13.

Source: Illinois Theater Center