- Associated Press - Friday, February 11, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - With five very different actors teaming up for a play on Broadway about friendly rivalries, the discussion around a restaurant table naturally turns ruthless: Exactly who in the group is the weakest link?

Is it Chris Noth? Jason Patric? Kiefer Sutherland? Brian Cox? Or maybe Jim Gaffigan?

“Talk to us each separately,” says Noth, laughing.

“I think we have to go on a daily basis,” jokes Patric.

“I was going to say hourly,” Sutherland muses.

“I would have said by the minute,” Cox says _ not to be outdone.

Those actor egos have apparently been dialed way down as the five prepare for the launch of a revival of “That Championship Season,” the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Jason Miller that started previews Wednesday.

“You don’t do something like this, certainly coming from our backgrounds, with the idea that your ego is going to be nourished or exercised in some way,” says Patric. “It’s the opposite: It’s why you actually do it.”

The plot centers on a group of former high school basketball stars who reunite at their coach’s Pennsylvania home 20 years after they won the state championship. The festive mood soon sours as the drinks kick in and old animosities flare up.

“The play is so balanced,” says Sutherland. “We’re the weakest link.”

Over lunch at the venerable theater-district hangout Sardi’s, the five gobble up steak tartar, cheddar burgers, Cobb salads and beef stew _ with a side portion of trash talk. They tease Patrick about his fluffy chest hair and the Scottish-born Cox about his homeland’s love of deep-fried Mars bars, but it’s clear these unlikely five have become friends. There’s even talk of them taking a field trip to Scranton, Pa., to soak up the play’s setting.

“The truth is, we hang out a lot,” says Patric. “It’s not forced _ we do. It’s tough when you’re doing eight hours a day, mind and body, and we still go out and have drinks afterward.”

Patric, star of “Sleepers” and “Narc,” has a deep connection to the piece: His father was the playwright. “That Championship Season” was only the second full-length play Miller wrote and it became his most successful. He died in 2001.

The play made its Broadway debut in 1972 starring Charles Durning, Richard A. Dysart, Walter McGinn, Michael McGuire and Paul Sorvino. A 1982 film version starred Robert Mitchum, Martin Sheen, Bruce Dern, Stacy Keach and Sorvino.

Tony Award-winning director Gregory Mosher, who helmed the recent Broadway revival of “A View From the Bridge,” approached Patric with the idea of reviving his father’s work. The actor wasn’t sure he wanted to be in it, but decided to help.

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