A gay football player struggles to make peace with his past and find hope in his future.
There is no shortage of ambition in Andrew Hinderaker's Colossal, which opened last week to round out Company One Theatre's 16th season. As part of a National New Play Network "rolling world premiere," Company One is one of four other theater companies across the country that will present the work. Hinderaker wrote the play while a grad student at the University of Texas Austin after being tasked to write something "unproducible" – so while this may mean that he technically failed that assignment, what results is an electric, resonant work that mostly rises above this heavy-handed, spotty production directed by Summer L. Williams.
Mike is a gifted dancer, performing with his father's modern dance company, when he decides to go out for his college football team, the UT Austin Longhorns. His would-be teammates won't stand for having a "fairy" on the field, so Mike is forced to choose between the path that his father mapped out for him and a position on the team. "Only son in the history of the United States to disappoint his dad by choosing football over dance," Mike says. Destroying his relationship with his father, Mike eventually becomes co-captain of the team, his athleticism and strength instantly setting him a part from the rest. Mike falls in love and begins a top-secret relationship of sorts with Marcus, another player on the team. During one fateful game, and in spite of all his training, Mike unsafely throws himself in the path of an opposing player to protect Marcus. This split-second decision leaves him paralyzed for life, and Marcus, out of fear for the future of his football career, never contacts Mike again. Confined to a wheelchair, Mike must now reconcile how such a blatant and primal expression of love could possibly go unreturned, or worse, unacknowledged. Are the fates so cruel as to confine a boy to a wheelchair for life for following his heart?
Adding to the depth of Hinderaker's work, the character of Mike is played by two actors, which allows for a generally fascinating psychological dynamic: young Mike (a brilliant Alex Molina) and Mike (Marlon Shepard, in his professional acting debut). The juxtaposition of both Mikes together, often in the same scene, allows to be painted a severely stark portrait of a young man so battered by life. Young Mike is the brightest light in the room with confidence to burn and the world at his feet, his immobile, older self is a shrunken, pained shell.
Alex Molina gives an unmissable performance as young Mike. Molina is a delirious cocktail of emotion that seamlessly transitions between ferocious masculinity and lovesick vulnerability. As his wheelchair-bound older self, Marlon Shepard makes an impressive, if tentative, debut. Shepard's acting greenness, though, is an excellent complement to Mike's struggles. Anthony Goss is just about perfect as Marcus, capturing both his tender confusion and his steadfast athleticism; his chemistry with Molina is delectably satisfying. As Mike's therapist, Jerry, Greg Maraio is first-rate, delivering some of the evening's biggest laughs, and Damon Singletary's coach is just right. Kudos go out to the well-cast and solid ensemble. The sole weak spot is Tommy Neblett as Mike's father, Damon (Neblett also serves as the show's choreographer). His acting is unconvincing and wooden, and his dance solo doesn't quite fit within the grounded production.
Colossal plays out in four quarters, as a timer ticks down each of the quarters from a giant scoreboard. This feels partially like a gimmick that doesn't wholly serve the piece: some scenes feel laboriously elongated to fit the time, as others feel quickly rushed-over so as not to take up more than the time allotted. The ticking clock, at its best, particularly when the fourth quarter is winding down, becomes a terrifying reminder to the audience that life does not have such a countdown. There's also a half time show with three charming percussionists from the Berklee College of Music, which is fun at first but quickly becomes tiresome.
Hinderaker has written a complex and rich play that sears its way into the heart. Director Summer L. Williams must be commended for her work here: Colossal is a bold, formidable work that mostly thrives under Williams' watch. However, the rapid pacing of the show, no doubt to fit the time constraints, often comes at the expense of exposition and plot, and as a result, there is a lack of clarity to the first two quarters in particular. Hinderaker's well-written dialogue is not given the time it needs to breathe and truly sink in due to the breakneck speed of this production. Kathryn Lieber's minimal but realistic set is on point, as are Meggan Camp's costumes. Annie Weigand's lighting is perhaps the most intricate design element here, and it serves the show well.
Though the production is far from flawless, Andrew Hinderaker has emerged as an exciting, fresh voice in American theater. The final quarter of the play, particularly, is one of the most powerfully emotional things you're likely to see onstage this year. It serves as a reminder that we all have something on the line. And the clock is ticking.