Hard-hitting conflicts, on the playing field and off, are what drive Colossal, Andrew Hinderaker's play about a gay college football player that just opened at the San Francisco Playhouse in its West Coast premiere. A talented athlete equally skilled in sport and dance, Mike (Jason Stojanovski) chose the game over working with his father's (Robert Parsons) dance company and his future looked bright until a game injury put him in a wheelchair. Consumed by self-pity and anger, he's stuck in the past, constantly rewinding the life-altering moment on video, refusing to work with his physical therapist (Wiley Naman Strasser), and heckled by his younger self (Thomas Gorrebeeck).
Overall, this production continues SF Playhouse's impressive run of well-chosen and ingeniously staged plays -- a solid hour's plus worth of thought-provoking and relevant material well-realized on the stage. However, the arc of the play doesn't break any new ground, some its characters lack dimension, the absence of any female characters narrows its impact, and it's brevity comes at the sacrifice of a depth its characters and subject deserve. Still, Colossal delivers the goods, with an unusual frame and structure that create an engrossing theatrical experience: set on a football field, the action takes place in quarters ticking off on a scoreboard above the stage; a three-man drumline (Alex Hersler, Zach Smith, Andrew Humann) handles the propulsive score, providing energetic and dramatic accompaniment (it's also quite loud); and the story continuously switches with cohesion and clarity between Mike's memories, his inner dialogue with his younger self, and real-time events. The results are entertaining without being superficial, although as the picture above reveals, there's plenty of eye candy for admirers of the male physique-- and a lot of profanity.
But what really makes Colossal worth seeing is how skillfully the script weaves its way through questions about masculinity, loyalty, obsession, and responsibility without flinching. Hinderaker began working on Colossal before Michael Sam's NFL debut and questions about CTE became an issue the sport could no longer ignore, so while it couldn't be more timely in its relevance, the play doesn't feel manipulative nor does it come across as an opportunistic grab from the headlines. On top of that, the combination of football and dance (an idea about which I was skeptical to say the least) works surprisingly well, effectively integrated into the overall design by choreographers Keith Pinto (dance) and Dave Maier (stunts). Director Jon Tracy and the talented, agile cast bring out all of the intersecting, compelling conflicts of Hinderaker's script with a subtlety that surprises given the setting. Football fans will undoubtedly like it, but Colossal's appeal extends way past the end zone.
Colossal, now playing through April 30th at the San Francisco Playhouse. Recommended.
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