Tuesday, January 18, 2011

That Championship Season by Jason Miller (1972)

With all of the excitement about the upcoming all-star revival of Jason Miller's That Championship Season on Broadway, I decided to go back and read the actual play itself. I had only previously seen snippets of the film, so I wanted to go back and read the original Tony- and Pulitzer Prize winning play by Jason Miller, who was born in Queens, NY on April 22, 1939 and died in his adopted hometown of Scranton, PA (where he was raised and lived for most of his life) on May 13th, 2001.

That Championship Season tells the story of a tense reunion between a group of 4 former high school basketball champs and their coach at his home in the Lackawanna Valley in the early 1970s. Early in the text of the play, Miller includes brief references to both Scranton and Old Forge.

The Scranton reference appears on page 11 of the 1972 Atheneum edition of the play. The characters of Tom (a former member of the team who is now an alcoholic) and George (another member of the team who is now the town mayor--of presumably Scranton--and up for reelection) are having a discussion about former teammate and wealthy businessman Phil:

I cancel at least five speeding tickets for him a month. He's going out with this seventeen-year-old, believe that, up in Scranton.

On page 13 is a reference to James (another teammate, a school principal and Tom's brother) purchasing beer in Old Forge, PA:

Where'd you guys go for the beer, New Jersey?

Phil wanted Schlitz. We had to go to Old Forge.

On a side note, I noticed that the text of the play does include seven instances of the dreaded N-word. With the recent controversy over sanitizing Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by replacing each use of the N-word with the word "slave," I can't help but wonder if the upcoming and highly anticipated Broadway revival (which officially opens March 6th and will run through May 29th, with previews beginning on February 9th) will keep Miller's original text intact or modify the use of certain controversial words. My colleague (and frequent contributor to this blog) Evelyn G.--who actually knew Jason Miller when she and her husband lived in New York in the 1970s--has tickets to an upcoming performance, so I will make sure to ask her if the producers made any changes to the text to suit modern audiences.

The book of Jason Miller's play That Championship Season is available to borrow from the Lackawanna County Library System. To place a hold, click here.

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