"I'm the only son in the history of the United States who disappointed his father by choosing football over dance," COLOSSAL is stunning American Theatre.
Football and Ballet doesn’t get close to describing Andrew Hinderaker’s audacious powerful play "Colossal", now on stage at the SF Playhouse through April 30th. Directed by Jon Tracy and choreographer, Keith Pinto, assembled a superb cast to transform the Playhouse stage into a full working football field. As you enter the theatre the players are on the field practicing with the drum line band. The event begins as you arrive at your seat; the scene is impressive, the cast is already on the field, deep in the throes of football practice. As this is carefully timed and choreographed, director Tracy didn’t want to lose the magic of having practice and examining his players. Colossal speaks well to the scale of the show, but the story is actually a very personal one. Mike (Jason Stojanovski) is a young man who was once a great football player for the University of Texas. Mike suffered, an accident on the playing field and it has paralyzed him. Mike deals with the accident and his gay feelings for some of his players, especially as he works with his physical therapist Jerry (Wiley Naman Strasser).
Hinderaker’s story sets up the play as a cutthroat sport, yet with the elegance of dance and growth. A large scoreboard timer sets up our four quarters and the play is performed in real time including a halftime. Creative director, Bill English has designed a full turf football space with Friday night lights. Kurt Landisman's lighting is dramatic and brings that realism of the game. Theodore J.H.Hulsker's sound design included the live sound of a drum line featuring Alex Hersler, Zach Smith and Andrew Human, and the piercing sounds of sport whistles and a cheering crowd mix in the background. Bill English’s set emerges you into the game and practice. The football throwing and men tackling each other transforms into dance and choreography created by Keith Pinto.
Stojanoski's complex acting from his chair and use of his body language is remarkable. His character also has the face his gay side, and at the time of his accident he was in a relationship with his teammate Marcus, strongly played by Thomas Gorrebeeck. Mike and his father Damon, played by local favorite Robert Parsons , is a well known choreographer, who has to work on repairing their previously broken relationship. The commentary on football injury issues and the speed and pain of the sport brings more to the story. Hinderaker was given a challenge by one of his instructors to write a play almost impossible to stage or produce. He bent the limitations of the traditional stage and went beyond the curtain. The team is large and the narrative is multi-layered and non-sequential. And perhaps most impressive, post-injury Mike 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 since they flash back to play each in the past and present. This is important because they share the stage a lot and It is bold in every sense.
Tracy’s Colossal undertaking is successful in managing all these moving parts with a evening of impressive out of the box theatre. The biggest battle Mike has is with himself literally played out on stage as his dad and coach help work out his conflict. A powerful line from Jerry about how football is a game that hurts people. “My knees and back agree” his skills as a dancer come into play 100% and the clear beauty of that is stunning. The play is about feelings--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, Cameron Matthews is first rate in the role. But he pushes Jerry away, and every decision he makes is always pretty much self defeating.
The many significant powerful moments include the drum line, and the modern dance choreography by Pinto of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance will take you away in the pain of the sport, yet its beauty. Stojanovski is spectacular as the role is challenging both emotionally and physically, he makes it look real and natural. Mike’s baffling ways of thinking are believable by Stojanovski. Likewise, Strasser is stunning as the jilted father who now has to take care of his paralyzed son. He changes between cold and caring as fluidly as he beautifully dances across the stage.
A show stopper is Strasser's performance as the affable physical therapist, Jerry. He is the only character who is not somewhat larger than life, which is quite perfect. His grounded approach ends up being the most powerful aspect in Mike’s life. He’s the deceptively wise every man who puts all the chaos in perspective, and he nails it.
The show is split into four quarters like a football game, and has a pregame and halftime show led by an awesome drum line. Anyone who has ever been to a football game can vouch that the drum line is always one of the best parts of the experience. They’re impressive and so is the entire team, headed by wonder football player/ dancers Robert Parsons, Dave Maier, Xander Ritchey, Brandon Leland, Ed Berkeley, Jacob Hsieh, Brian Conway, and Travis Santell Rowland. Dave Maier's stunt choreography, takes you right in the middle of pain and elegance of the game. Brooke Jennings' costume design, would seem simple but bodies are part of the look and it is spledid. Alex Hersler's percussion orchestrations and drum line add the real sound track to this dazzling play.
There’s the choreography of 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 the story. Tracy’s ability to handle both football and dance with equal, and often intersecting, 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. Fighting who he is and his change ahead. There are no easy answers, and there aren’t always conclusions, but this extraordinary 70 minute play will take your breath away, a first rate theatrical experience.
San Francisco Playhouse Presents
Written by Andrew Hinderaker, Directed by Jon Tracy
Choreographer Keith Pinto
The San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post, San Francisco Ca.
Through April 30, 2016
Tues, Wed, Thurs 7pm / Fri, Sat 8pm / Sat 3pm, Sun 2pm
Runs 70 minutes no intermission
Photos by Jessica Palopoli