The Stars of “That Championship Season” on the Challenges of the Show

That-Championship-Season-Cast

The five actors in the new Broadway revival of “That Championship Season” kicked back in a Chelsea rehearsal room recently with the New York Times and shared wine and beer as they talked about their all-male ensemble, career choices, and the legacy of “The Lost Boys” and “24”.

The winner of the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play, “That Championship Season” follows a reunion of four high school basketball players whose lives soured after winning a state title and whose fears are expressed through racism and anti-Semitism. Kiefer Sutherland, Jack Bauer on “24,” is making his Broadway debut as a bitter junior high school principal; Jason Patric, his co-star in the vampire movie “The Lost Boys,” plays his alcoholic brother; Chris Noth (“The Good Wife,” “Sex and the City” ), is a sleazy businessman; and Jim Gaffigan, the stand-up comedian, is the feckless mayor of their town. The host of the reunion is their coach, played by Brian Cox, who last starred on Broadway in Tom Stoppard’s “Rock ’n’ Roll.”

Q. How much of this ensemble’s chemistry has to do with testosterone?

JASON PATRIC That’s part of it. We’ve bonded like a sports team. Parts of us have bled into our characters. Our repartee has become similar to the play’s.

JIM GAFFIGAN For instance the honesty of Jason Patric and the honesty of his character, Tom, are equally frightening to my character, George, and to Jim Gaffigan.

KIEFER SUTHERLAND I feel very uncomfortable if too much time goes by away from these guys. Discovering your character is a really fragile process. I don’t want it to float away.

BRIAN COX This is a big step for these four guys because they don’t usually do plays. My life is based on doing plays, that was the culture I inherited. I never liked the theater. I always wanted to do movies.

Q. The five of you are busy in television, movies, comedy. What led each of you to Broadway — Kiefer and Jim, for the first time — to do “That Championship Season”?

COX I read the play, and it caught me. I was very vulnerable at the time.

PATRIC Jim had just broken up with him. [laughter]

COX I’ve been a little disillusioned of late. I have of late ——

NOTH [paraphrasing Hamlet] I have of late lost all my mirth.

COX I’d been thinking I don’t know why I’m living in New York. I mean, I’m here for my children, who get a great education here. But I’ve got to find some reason for being in the city. L.A. was fine. Sun. London, I’d lived there all my life. But living here was such a strain. Then [the director] Gregory [Mosher] sent me this play. I read it, and thought, wow, maybe I should go back to the theater. The play is about purity of purpose, and the one thing that my own life lacks, that my life used to have, was purity of purpose. It became compromised by everything else.

Q. Kiefer, how did you come to the play?

SUTHERLAND Well, “24” was ending. I had moved to New York because my daughter was going to university here. I fell in love with the Village. But outside of that I had no purpose here. So I called up Jason. I had a lot of respect for a lot of Jason’s choices work-wise. And I didn’t know anyone here. Literally, I know more New Yorkers now as a result of this rehearsal process than I’d known in five years. I said, “Look, for the first time in nine years I’m going to have a chance to do whatever I want. What do you think I should do?” And he didn’t say, “That Championship Season.” He said: “What kind of films do you want to make? Another television show?” And I said yes to everything. But I hadn’t done a play since 1997, and that was ridiculous. So Jason sent me three plays. I read this play for the first time since drama school, and I knew Brian was involved. Jason was. I think Chris was involved ——

SUTHERLAND So I had no idea what to do. I started sleeping really late. I thought, well I’ll get to the gym by 4. No, I’ll get there by 6. You know what, I like working out at 9 at night. Without any kind of structure, my life just started to ——

PATRIC Become Jason Patric’s!

SUTHERLAND For me this play was too complicated, too challenging not to have a run at it. Look, I might run straight into a brick wall.

COX You will.

SUTHERLAND It would have been awful not to have tried.

 

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