The theatre scene is quickly changing. This year, we saw the advent of New Play Exchange, a part of the National New Play Network (the “NNPN”), including the Rolling World Premiere program for new plays that are produced by at least three theatre companies within a twelve-month period. These exciting initiatives (cloud-based script database and crowd-sourced recommendations of these plays, along with the funding of new plays and collaboration of theatre companies with emerging playwrights) bring theatre to a new apex. We are on the verge of greatness, and few theatre companies in the Greater Boston area are embracing the wave of change like Company One (“C1”) Theatre. In its most recent production, C1 finishes its sixteenth season by bringing aggressive physicality, heartrending emotions, and poignant new theatrical forms to the intimate Roberts Theatre at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. Colossal is unlike any theatre that you’ve seen before, and the effect is the perfect mix of entertainment and education, thought and feeling collide in this impactful and exhilarating ninety-minute play that will have your heart racing and your hands clapping.
Colossal begins before you enter the theatre. As you find your seat, you watch the ensemble of rugged football players participate in their daily warm-ups. They pass the ball with ease, they run mini-plays, and they stretch for the big game, namely, the play’s four quarters. The play is a countdown on the clock. With four quarters of roughly fifteen minutes each, plus an exciting and unexpected half-time show, Colossal runs down the field at a steady pace. Sip on a cool beverage and watch the men break into a sweat before the big game starts.
Playwright Andrew Hinderaker’s play is as much about what defines masculinity as breaking down the idolatry of physical strength and pursuit of one’s dreams in America. Marlon Shepard plays Mike, a former football player who had a terrible mistake and accident on the field and who is now confined to a wheelchair, and he must watch, rewind, and fast-forward through his past, while trying to deal with his present and future condition. The protagonist’s use of narrative, a brooding and emotionally raw form of storytelling, is blissfully unreliable until the final quarter. He is matched with his younger, more athletic and physically fit self, played by Alex Molina as Young Mike, who both antagonizes and inspires Shepard’s Mike. The two actors play well off each other, creating a natural balance of jealousy, shame, ridicule, affection, and hope. Some audience members have complained to me about the portrayal of a younger, “whiter” version of Mike being openly aggressive to a paraplegic, dark-skinned present version of Mike, and, moreover, some of the same audience members being confused about the dual identity of the two characters because of these stark differences in casting. My advice: Look at the program before the show, and get over it. Shepard and Molina move like one in a dance together for most of the show; their collaboration to create more holistic view of Mike develops the play into a richer, more vibrant mode of storytelling.
Despite Mike’s mysterious accident, it is the love story between two closeted football players, Mike and Marcus, played by the reserved and confused Anthony Goss, that takes center stage and forms the play’s major action. Told in flashbacks, the relationship between these two men is told juxtaposed with the machismo of American football. The ensemble forms a tight movement of ripped bodies and rugged voices, setting the status quo, which Mike tries, defenseless, to fight against. The struggle, the tackle, and the pain of failing to find the love and acceptance set this play apart from other, similar stories. Hinderaker attempted to write a play that was un-producible, however, instead, he created a monumental paragon for which other new plays should aspire. The play’s characters, particularly Greg Maraio’s Jerry, offer witty and poignant dialogue that zips by you as fast as a running back; Maraio’s Jerry allows his comforting presence and confidence demeanor to make even his most preachy lines seem authentic.
One of the few weak links is the father-son relationship between Damon, played by Choreographer Tommy Neblett, and Shepard and Molina’s Mike and Young Mike, respectively. At the crux of the story is the acceptance and understanding that Mike wishes to obtain from his father. The dialogue and strength of this production do not support this conflict, offering too little to resolve. The play’s final moments are heart-wrenching and beautifully directed by Summer L. Williams, but the conflict never builds to a sufficient climax, relying, instead, on the relationships between Young Mike and Marcus, and Mike and Jerry to carry the play’s dramatic tension. While this problem is not insurmountable, it does weak the play’s focus, especially given some key moments played by Neblett – his choreographed dance with Molina should be electric and palpable. Overall, the talented ensemble runs a full game, capable of endurance, stamina, and character, but it struggles during the dance, lacking some of the lightness needed to carry the half-time dance.
Director Summer L. Williams has created a noteworthy play, thanks to Dramaturg Ramona Ostrowski (particularly her program notes), Choreographer Neblett, and Football Expert Adrian Hernandez. The effective lighting design by Annie Weigand blend the past and present, forward and rewind, isolated spotlights and blinding field lights, to outstanding effect. The flattering costume design by Meggan Camp emphasized character details and the raw sexuality and masculinity of the play. The brilliant decisions to seat the audience like a stadium and create a mini-field for the play’s action were Kathryn Lieber’s best plays.
The play is as exhilarating and exciting as any football game, complete with action and suspense, the score only decided in the final moments. The pacing is agile, for the most part, plagued only by some rough acting moments that have surely been practiced. The thrill of the live percussionists playing a mini-drumline and the community established through the claps and cheers are unlike anything that I have experienced at a play. You will be on your feet at the end.