PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: That Championship Season—Five Stud Cards

By Harry Haun
07 Mar 2011

Buy this Limited Collector's Edition

The other "homey" turning Broadway actor is stand-up comic Jim Gaffigan, who honed his acting chops in films. "I've done a bunch of them, but this is my first time acting longer than ten minutes." And, he noticed the difference right away. "It's a completely different discipline. There's something about listening to the others, what they're giving, and staying in the scene without speaking. I found myself wanting to excel at the character. There is something—my wife calls it the theatre bug—that I feel I totally have now, and there is something so alive about doing it."

He's not anticipating any career change because of this bug. "My priorities are definitely the play right now, but I'm a comedian. That's what I do." And, it's what he'll continue to do. "Stand-up really helped me in feeling comfortable in front of an audience, in the communication that exists with the performer and the audience."

Noth wears well his synthetic-heel role, Phil Romano, a moneybags who cuckolds the small-minded, small-town mayor (Gaffigan) he is financing back into office.

"You gotta love whatever character you're doing," he acknowledges right off, "but I do feel bad for him in a way. For an actor, it's a delicious part because he appears to be one thing, but inside he's something else completely, and that peeps through a lot. He's sorta the bon vivant at the beginning and slowly starts to crumble."

Right into a big out-of-nowhere crying jag, in fact. "That was difficult to do because you don't have any words. You just have to break down. Usually when people cry, they're in a scene and they're talking. This, in particular, was a little more difficult because you're listening, listening, listening. For the last ten pages of the play, I don't say a word—and then I have to get to the point where everything's falling apart."

The ensemble, Noth says, pitches the lines around like a basketball, with occasional slam-dunks for punctuation. "People often talk about sports being like acting in terms of back and forth, back and forth. That's teamwork, especially in this play when you do have to be there for your fellow actor all the time. That kind of fluidity takes a lot of hard work to get there. That's why early previews shouldn't be seen."

The hub around which all this intense, verbal gimme-the-ball inner play spins is their beloved old coach, who grows progressively more bigoted and sinister as the evening and the drinking continue. It's a double-edged sword Brian Cox wields with considerable ease and authority. "He's a character with contradictions, and I like that," he says. "It means he is a human being—he's a very human guy.

"They had to cast my role first because that had to be the centric force for all these guys to operate. He's the hero, he's The Guy, and you gotta be The Guy. That's a big challenge. They've made it so easy because they've all been incredibly respectful.

"The play's about purity of purpose in its essence when it kinda goes wrong. And, it's about where bias comes from, how prejudice is built into a young personality."

Only four-fifths of the championship team shows up for the reunion. The mystery of the missing player unravels slowly but surely and upends the values of the coach.