Actor, director finally reach ‘That Championship Season’


During a breakfast several years ago, Jim Simmons was asked a question by his friend, Lori Raffel.

“She said, ‘If I ever get the rights to ‘That Championship Season,’ will you audition for me?’ And I said, ‘OK,’’’ Simmons said. “Then years passed literally, and I saw the audition notice. I think it might have surprised her when I showed up.”

Simmons, a Fishers resident, plays the role of the coach in Main Street Productions’ presentation of “That Championship Season,” set for April 4 to 14 at Basile Westfield Playhouse. Raffel, the director, said directing the show is a bucket list item for her.

“That Championship Season” won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.

Jason Miller’s play centers on the 20th anniversary of a high school championship team, with the coach meeting four of his five top players.

“One of the players is the mayor of the town and his principal financier,” Simmons said. “One of the guys hasn’t been there for a couple of years because he’s an alcoholic and has been traveling around the country and been kind of destitute. As they start to talk about the campaign for mayor and get a little more drunk, secrets start to come out. Everybody has a secret the other doesn’t know about and it starts to come close to destroying their relationship.”

Simmons said the coach has two long soliloquy speeches.

“They will be fun to do because he really gets emotional about it,” Simmons said. “The toughest part is he’s a real throwback and he’s racist. He keeps trying to draw them back to when they played for him because that keeps his influence on them.”

Simmons said it’s difficult to present something likable about the coach with his views about Black and Jewish people.

Noblesville resident Adrian Blackwell plays Tom, the youngest member of the team.

“The process has been wonderful,” Blackwell said. “It’s challenging for me because it’s a much more dramatic part. Usually, I play a bumbling, comedic relief character where I get some laughs and then go off stage.”

Blackwell said he is on stage for the full 90 minutes.

“It’s just a much bigger role than I’ve usually played and it’s very exciting and challenging to try to live up to that,” Blackwell said.

Earl Campbell, a Noblesville resident, plays the role of the mayor.

“We realize that our lives have really gone nowhere we thought they would go and finding that out in middle age,” he said.

Campbell said he read the play several years ago and it didn’t resonate with him until he was older.

“There is a quote that great art makes society take a look at itself,” Campbell said. “I feel this is a good reflection on a lot of the mindsets there are out there today and a lot of challenges we still have as a society. There are a lot of towns that are still operating in corruption.”

Campbell said one of the other players, Phil Romano, might not support the mayor’s campaign, instead supporting a younger, more progressive opponent. Campbell said that is a major drama of the reunion.

Campbell’s character gets drunk during the reunion and his speech becomes slovenly.

“I’ve never played completely lit up on stage and there is a challenge of overdoing that,” he said.

Ken Kingshill, from Whitestown, plays Phil. Indianapolis resident Mark Kamish plays James, Tom’s older brother. The fifth player never returns to the reunions because he felt the championship wasn’t won fairly for reasons that are revealed during the play.

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