Monday, July 27, 2015

Company One Presents "Colossal" by Andrew Hinderaker - A Rolling World Premiere of a Play That Tackles Multiple Issues of Male Bonding

There are so many layers to Andrew Hinderaker's extraordinary new play, "Colossal," that I will have to limit myself to discussing only a small sampling of them lest this review morph into a monograph.  I am still processing what I experienced on Sunday at the Roberts Theater at the Calderwood Pavilion in taking in this play in which Company One participates in what is being called a "Rolling World Premiere" of this remarkable piece.

Alex Molina (Young Mike),
Marlon Shepard (Mike)
and Ensemble
Colossal" by Andrew Hinderaker
Company One
Through August 15
(Photo by Liza Voll)

Let's begin with the genesis of this work of art.  When Andrew Hinderaker was studying in grad school at the University of Texas in Austin, a mentor of his challenged him to write an "unproducible play."  Several threads of influence began to weave themselves together in the mind of the young playwright: Texas football, a relative who had sustained a spinal cord injury playing sports, a fascination with the complex issues of male bonding in American culture.

Much to the surprise and delight of the playwright, several bold theater companies across the U.S. decided to tackle the challenge of finding ways to produce this "uproducible play."  Company One is the latest organization to bring this new work to audiences.

The play is structured very much like a typical college football game - 4 quarters of 15 minutes each with a 15 minute halftime show featuring a drum line and a dance troupe.  Director Summer L. Williams and Scenic Designer Kathryn Lieber have found a way to turn the space inside the Roberts Theatre into a microcosm of a college football stadium, complete with lockers, weight room, viewing stands, scoreboard and AstroTurf.  It is a wonderful fact of symmetry that this all-male cast is supported by an all-female creative team in telling this multi-layered story exploring the vicissitudes of male bonding.  The creative team also includes Costumes by Meggan Camp, Lighting by Annie Weigand, Sound by Darby Smotherman, Props by Molly FitzMaurice and Dramaturgy by Ramona Ostrowski.

Technically, this play is awe-inspiring.  The playwright has written scenes in which football plays are enacted at full speed, with bone-crunching authenticity, and a crucial scene is replayed, with the actors/athletes remarkably showing the play in reverse and then in slow motion.  The blocking and direction of these scenes are stunning in their precision.  Much credit goes to the Director and the fine actors that she has cast in these roles.

The heart of the story examines Young Mike, a gifted athlete whose future with the NFL seems assured until the play that causes his injury. Alex Molina is superb as Young Mike. Playing an older Mike, post-injury, is wheelchair-bound actor Marlon Shepherd.  Throughout the play, Young Mike and Mike interact with each other, taunting, challenging, prodding each other to be honest and to tell the true and complete story of what went on leading up to the injury and the aftershocks that followed.  The fact that Mr. Shepard still lives with the debilitating effects of his own spinal cord injury adds a layer of authenticity and verisimilitude to the character of Mike that is palpable and poignant.  In like manner, the fact that Mr. Molina has played both college and professional football as well as having trained as an actor in the A.R.T. MFA program adds to the grittiness and credibility of his portrayal of Young Mike.

At the center of the action and struggle are the internal dialogues that Young Mike and Mike have with each other. Radiating out from this dyad of Mikes at the hub of this play are relationships with father, coach, teammates, a love interest and a physical therapist.  In each of these sets of relationships, the playwright explores the role of emotional intimacy and physical intimacy.  Sometimes the dialogue among the characters is verbal and at other times it is kinetic.

There is a powerful scene in the second half of the play in which Young Mike and wheelchair-bound Mike are shown in parallel trying to build up strength and overcome resistance.  This scene is perfectly staged with the two Mikes at opposite ends of the field - Young Mike struggling to get his already perfect body to function at an even higher level of perfection and post-injury Mike struggling merely to lift his broken body out of the wheelchair to take one small step.

Mike is in love with his Co-Captain, Marcus (an excellent Anthony Goss, who is also a former football player), but they both are ambivalent about their "love that dare not speak its name" in the testosterone-infused air of the football locker room.  Their various explorations of touching each other, desiring touch and then avoiding touch, are motifs that are explored throughout the play.

Another spoke is Mike's relationship with his father, the Founder of a Modern Dance Company.  When Mike makes a decision to turn his back on a potential career as a dancer to pursue football, his father is devastated and furious.  Young Mike offers the observation: "I may the only young man in America whose father was disappointed in his choice of football over dance."  It is a Billy Elliott moment in reverse!  Tommy Neblett is excellent as the father, and he also functions as the choreographer for the half-time dance sequence.

Another spoke in this wheel is Mike's relationship with Jerry (a very effective and feisty Greg Maraio) his physical therapist/occupational therapist/gad fly.  The fact that Jerry is openly gay adds complications to the way that Mike relates to Jerry and to his own sexual identity. The issue of touch becomes something for them to discuss and to contend with.

Additional members of Mike's football team include Damon Singletary as the Coach, Ben Salus, Henoch Spinola, Aaron Dowdy, Cameron Allen, Chris Pittman and Kai Tshikosi.

The action of the football game is broken up by a halftime show that reinforces beautifully many of the explicit themes of this play.  The drum line consists of of percussionists Nick Liddie, Matthew Grina and Seth Pumilia.  Their competition with one another, interspersed with collaboration, echoes the nature of the physical struggles depicted during the game - macho attempts at physical dominance mixed with artistry.  The drummer performances are book-ended around a performance of Mike's father's Dance Troupe.  The football players are now functioning as dancers, and the dance they perform as part of the halftime show depicts various themes of masculine touch, connectedness and disconnectdness.

Throughout the play, it is not clear to what degree Mike and his father have reached a rapprochement over Mike's devastating choice to play football and expose himself to risk.  The play concludes with a deeply moving scene that answers that unspoken question.  The scene can best be described as uplifting.

This is a play that should be seen by all men who are willing to wrestle with these complex issues, as well as by the women who love and support them.

Through August 15th.

Company One Website



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