During the football drama Colossal the central character recalls the sensation after being hit for the first time. “I’m alive. You cannot hurt me.” The irony of that feeling of youthful invincibility is that he later winds up paralyzed from a football injury. How he deals with that injury and flashbacks to the events leading up to it are the basis for the gripping world premiere drama Colossal at Olney Theatre Center.
Football is rarely portrayed in theatre for obvious logistical reasons yet Colossal immerses the audience in that world. A coach and seven players are engaged in vigorous team drills as the audience enters the theatre. It is an effective way to convey the dedication and violence that underlie the sport. It may remind some of you of the military drills that were such an integral and poetic part of Black Watch see here two years ago.
Early in the play, Mike (Michael Patrick Thornton) enters in a wheelchair to present a cautionary tale to his former team. There is a difference between fearlessness and recklessness, he explains and his injury is “no one’s fault but my own.” Yet the pain in his face suggests that he is suffering from much more than just his physical injury.
Mike’s emotional traumas involve difficult relationships. His father Damon (Steve Ochoa), leader of a famous modern dance company disowned Mike after he left the company to play football. He conflicts with the sympathetic yet firm physical therapist Jerry (James Whalen) who attempts to gain Mike’s full commitment to rehabilitation before the window that may allow him to walk again closes. Most of all, Mike is tormented by his past secret relationship with his teammate Marcus (Jon Hudson Odom).
The story is told using flashbacks and other artistic devices. The injury Mike suffered is shown through live reenactment that Mike can show with slow motion and freeze frame via a remote control. In addition, Mike is taunted and haunted by the younger version of himself. Young Mike (Joseph Carlson) is a cocky, passionate stud devoted to his future football career and his love for Marcus.
The acting in Colossal is top notch. Michael Patrick Thornton wordlessly conveys so much pain and emotion that he earns strong empathy and audience investment in his fate. The same is true for Steve Ochoa as the troubled father, who also leads a powerful modern dance show at halftime. Finally, Joseph Carlson and Jon Hudson Odom convey powerful friendship that is also overlaid with a palpable chemistry.
Beyond emotion, Colossal also succeeds as a play of ideas. It addresses our conflicted love of football. When the Coach (KenYatta Rogers) tells the players “You’re invincible. Nothing hurts you.”, we know that for many men that statement is untrue. It is a timely reflection of the challenges faced by a gay man in a hypermasculine sporting environment that was written before Michael Sam became a household name. It also touches on the difficulties of both physical and emotional rehabilitation.
EXTENDED Closes October 5, 2014
Olney Theatre Center
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd.
1 hour, 10 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $53 – $63
Wednesdays thru Sundays
The acting, staging, and writing of Colossal are so impressive that they mostly overshadow weaknesses in the underlying story. The central conflict over why Mike will exceed requirements for rehab exercises except for the one most essential one seems contrived. Similarly, the importance of one particular night for a potential liaison between Young Mike and Marcus (on a football team road trip, no less) lacks logic.
Ultimately, the play is a success and packs a powerful emotional ending. This presentation of Colossal is the first of five in a National New Play Network rolling premiere. Despite having the leadoff role, it is hard to image how any improvements can be made to the Olney Theatre Center presentation. It is a powerful and memorable start to the theatre season.
Colossal by Andrew Hinderaker . Directed by Will Davis . Featuring Michael Patrick Thornton, Joseph Carlson, Jon Hudson Odom, Steve Ochoa, James Whalen, KenYatta Rogers, Sam Faria, Will Hayes, Jeff Kirkman III, Michael Litchfield, and Matthew Ward . Choreography: Christopher D’Amboise, Fight and Movement Choreography: Ben Cunis, Scenic design: Misha Kachman . Lighting design: Colin K. Bills . Sound design Chris Baine . Costume design: Ivania Stack. Stage manager: Josiane M. Lemieux . Presented by Olney Theatre Center . Reviewed by Steven McKnight.
Steve Charing . MDTheatreGuide this vibrant, talented cast crosses the goal line before the clock runs out.
Susan Berlin . Talkin’Broadway an involving and unexpected evening of theater, if perhaps a little overstuffed…
Peter Marks . Washington Post aims for the goal post and succeeds
Rick Westercamp . DCMetroTheaterArts visually stimulating, as well as emotionally and physically exhausting in the most cathartic way.[/ezcol_3quarter_end]