Dallas — Never has a title more accurately described a play than Andrew Hinderaker’s audacious Colossal, produced by Dallas Theater Center as part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. It transforms the Wyly Theatre into a football stadium for an uneven yet compelling story about feeling—and the lack thereof.
Entering the theater is a pain in the ass. For some reason, the production team decided to adopt the airline method of admittance, calling out pre-assigned group numbers. Group 1, Group 2, etc. The effect is the exact same as what happens at an airline gate. A mass of people crowds the entrance whether their group has been called or not. And pity the poor ticket-takers who have to stand at the bottom of the wide stairwell and try to appropriately herd people and act as gatekeepers all at the same time.
Once you finally get in the theater, the scene is impressive. And it’s obvious why the audience was made to wait, because the cast is already on the field, deep in the throes of football practice. As this is carefully timed and choreographed, director Kevin Moriarty didn’t want to lose the magic of having practice start after people had already started, apparently.
Colossal speaks well to the scale of the show, but the story is actually a very personal one. Mike (Alex Stoll/Zack Weinstein) is a young man who was once a great football player for the University of Texas. However, an accident on the field has left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Part of the story is him dealing with the accident, especially as he works with his physical therapist Jerry (Steven Michael Walters). But, another aspect of Mike is that he’s gay, and at the time of his accident had been in a relationship with his teammate Marcus (Khris Davis). Finally, Mike and his father Damon (Joel Ferrell), a renowned choreographer, have to work on repairing their previously broken relationship. Add in a commentary on football injury issues and there’s a lot going on in this show.
Which makes sense given that the show was a result of a challenge levied at Hinderaker by one of his teachers to write an unproduceable play. Throw out the limitations of the traditional stage and think big. So, the set is an actual football field with turf and everything, as expertly recreated here by scenic designer John Coyne. The cast is large. The narrative is multi-layered and non-sequential. And perhaps most impressive (and difficult to pull off), post-injury Mike (Weinstein) has to be a disabled actor who uses a wheelchair in real life. Not only that, but he has to look somewhat like pre-injury Mike (Stoll). This is important because they share the stage a lot. It is bold in every sense.
Clearly the show is not unproduceable, because here it is. But, it’s a big undertaking in many ways, and isn’t always successful in managing all these moving parts.
First of all is something that most people won’t notice or mind. The actual football stuff is completely unrealistic. Despite being a football fan, Hinderaker hasn’t spent any time in an actual locker room and it shows. The way the practices are run is wrong. The football players are written very stereotypically, like taken straight from a cheesy 1980’s frat movie or something. Granted, that’s not really the important thing here. Just don’t expect anything resembling authenticity with any of the football stuff. Like he didn’t even Google “football practice” before writing the play. Texas has its own sports channel on TV in which they televise a lot of practice stuff. Again it’s not a big deal. But, the lack of attention to detail is disappointing.
The other issue is that Hinderaker tries to take on several big issues all in one play. There’s Mike’s strained relationship with his dancer father, his relationship with Marcus, and his injury, which serves as a, kind of, commentary on football’s well-publicized injury issues. And from all that, the biggest battle Mike has is with himself—literally played out on stage as Weinstein versus Stoll, and the other issues never really get any resolution, save for a powerful line from Jerry about how football is a game that hurts people. My knees and back agree.
That’s why it’s best to say that the play is about feeling(s)—emotional, physical, psychological, and otherwise. Mike is at conflict with himself more than anyone else, but this conflict plays outwardly as either pushing away or pulling close to people. He pushes away from his father when he pulls the “reverse Billy Elliot” of eschewing dance in favor of football. He pulls Marcus closer as their relationship blossoms. He pushes Jerry away, etc. And every decision he makes is always pretty much self-defeating.
The positives are the powerful performances, the drumline, and the modern dance choreography by Joshua L. Peugh of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance.
Weinstein is spectacular. The role is challenging both emotionally and physically, and he makes it look real and natural. Mike’s often-baffling ways of thinking are rendered believable by Weinstein. Likewise, Ferrell is stunning as the once-jilted father who now has to take care of his paralyzed son. He treads between cold and caring as fluidly as he dances across the stage.
The scene-stealer is Walters’ affable physical therapist Jerry. He’s the only character who isn’t somewhat larger than life, which is actually quite perfect. His grounded approach ends up being the most useful thing in Mike’s life. He’s the deceptively wise everyman who puts all the craziness in perspective, and he nails it.
The show is split into four quarters like a football game, and thus has a pregame and halftime show led by an awesome drumline. Anyone who has ever been to a football game can vouch that the drumline is always one of the best parts of the experience. They’re great.
Finally, choreography is important. There’s the choreography of the football, of which Mike’s injury scene is pivotal and replayed several times. But, given his family’s background, there’s also a significant dance element in Mike’s story. Peugh’s ability to handle both football and dance with equal, and often intersecting, aplomb is definitely the highlight of this production.
Colossal is what it says it is. It’s a big story about a young man at a traumatic crossroads. There are no easy answers, and there aren’t always conclusions, but amidst all the action and audacity is the kernel of a very honest and relatable story—the notion that, in a way, there’s a little bit of Colossal in all of us.