Issues remain timely in ‘Championship Season’


Where: The Youngstown Playhouse

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and March 18-19

Tickets: For reservations, call 330-788-8739.

Place:Youngstown Playhouse

Glenwood Ave., Youngstown

By Milan Paurich

When Jason Miller’s “That Championship Season” opened on Broadway in 1972, it won every award under the sun including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony for Best Play.

But a year later, “TCS” would be overshadowed by its author’s newfound celebrity as an actor — and Oscar nominee — for co-starring in “The Exorcist” (Miller played Father Damien Karras in that demonic possession blockbuster).

Miller’s career as a playwright stalled after his ‘72 breakthrough, however. “Barrymore’s Ghost” in 2000 would be the only other work he’d write for the stage before his death from cancer a year later. Yet “TCS”’s reputation has remained mostly secure in the ensuing decades thanks to a popular 1982 film version of the play, which Miller himself directed, and an equally well-regarded 1999 TV adaptation. (A Broadway revival this spring should only enhance its stature.)

The award-winning drama is being presented by the Youngstown Playhouse as part of its Griffith-Adler Actor’s Series starting this weekend. Directing is community theater legend Joe Scarvell whose credits span more than four decades, and the impressive cast features John Cox, Johnny Pecano, Chris Ferencik, Sam Perry and Chuck Simon.

Pivoting on the 25-year reunion of four star members of a legendary Pennsylvania high school basketball team (and the various secrets, recriminations and betrayals that it dredges up), the one-acter comes equipped with the type of juicy roles actors traditionally salivate over.

For Cox, the old-fashioned dramaturgy of “TCS” — Miller’s drama is a throwback to the sort of plays another Miller (Arthur) wrote in the 1940’s and ’50s — is a distinct change of pace from his most recent stage appearances in such post-modernist works as David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow” and Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman.”

“Even though ‘TCS’ is a more traditional play than, say, ‘Pillowman,’ the themes are the same. How we interact with one another as human beings is really what drives good drama,” Cox said in a recent interview. “And all good drama comes from conflict. Diving into the personalities of these distinct characters —George in ‘TCS;’ Bobby Gould in ‘Speed-the-Plow;’ Katurian in “Pillowman’ — is what makes them fun for me.”

With its small-town setting and concerns about the failing economy, political corruption and war, Cox believes the play that should have no trouble resonating with area theatergoers. “There are a lot of socially relevant themes that ring true, and we all know men like the characters in this play,” he said. “It will make you laugh, think and wonder if the past truly is better.”

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