Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Colossal
Mixed Blood Theatre

Also see Arthur's review of Jeffrey Hatcher's Hamlet


Toby Forrest with (back, left to right) Casey Hoekstra, Josh Wilder, Mathias Becker, Ryan Colbert and Ian Zahren
Arriving at Colossal, a powerful new play now at Mixed Blood Theatre as part of a rolling world premiere, we enter the auditorium to the stark, insistent rhythms of a three-person drum corps and the vigorous exercises of a football squad under the command of an unrelenting coach. Punctuating the drum beats are the guttural sound of men exerting themselves to their limits. Once seated we notice one other man, of middle age in a T-shirt and sweat pants, also exercising. His movements are those of ballet and not a quarterback, but he is equally an athlete.

As the house lights dim, the coach gathers his players, extends the ball, and taunts them with a kind of mock shimmy that affirms his dominance. The players shout out some motivating cheers, then gather on one knee around their coach in a huddle that end with a spirited "Amen." The game is on.

Colossal is told in the structure of a football game, though it is about much more than football. The play is divided into four quarters, fifteen minutes each, and a large electronic scoreboard over the playing area marks each quarter and counts down the time. The scoreboard also displays every word of spoken dialogue in LCD letters, to assure that none of the fans in the stands miss a play. There is even a halftime show. The stage itself is a green field of turf, folding up on the far wall facing the audience, lending the small stage the impression of expansiveness.


Darius Dotch and Torsten Johnson
Into this arena comes Mike, formerly a star player destined for a high profile pro career, now paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair as the result of an injury on the playing field. He views the fateful game over and over in his mind, and debates with his younger, physically gifted self, Young Mike, regarding the events of that game, and what led up to it. We come to know much about Mike (in both his current and former carnations); his father, a modern dance director (the dancer exercising during the opening); his physical therapist; and Marcus, a teammate with whom Mike had a special relationship.

Colossal compresses a vast amount into its four compact quarters. It is the story of a boy defying his father's wish that he dedicate himself to dance in order to join the football team, of a young man with dashed hopes struggling against pain and bitterness to regain his lost dignity, and of a person who is driven to the limit by his love, only to have that love walk away in the aftermath of his sacrifice. The story is well told, clear but never too obvious, and acted with heartfelt performances by all of the principles.

What makes these storylines especially powerful are the important and difficult questions they raise. What is masculinity? Why is football linked with ultimate machismo, while dance is considered an effete pastime? We see football plays in slow motion with choreography as heart-stopping as ballet. What are the roots and boundaries of homophobia? How do the broken bonds between father and son rebuild in the wake of rejection and trauma? And how does a man put to rest the demons of his past and move beyond shattering losses to find new truths? It's a lot to ponder over 60 minutes.

The halftime entertainment is a ballet featuring Young Mike and Damon, with a dance company amplifying their moves. It is a lovely piece that illustrates the complex relationship between father and son, part conflict and part admiration. It prepares us for the resolution that allows us hope for Mike to move on.

While the production is fully stocked with visual and aural flourishes, and a structure that might have become too clever for its own good, strong performances make sure Colossal touches the heart as well as the mind. As Mike, Toby Forrest makes us care about this injured player, bitter and heartbroken, whose paralysis is not only in his limbs. The frustration with which he faces the trial of his physical therapy is palpable. Torsten Johnson as Young Mike is aptly over-confident, reckless with his feelings, with an innocence that sees no reason to hold back—on the field as well as in the heart. His striking physical grace, both as a football player and as a dancer, blur the lines between art and sport, between masculinity and beauty. When Mike and Young Mike berate each, showing no mercy for the other's plight, we feel the depth of inner conflict between who we were and who we have become.

As Mike's father, David DeBlieck portrays paternal love in the guise of gruff ultimatums and rejection that conceal a core of tenderness and acceptance. Darius Dotch is a fine-tuned Marcus, adhering to the strictures of masculinity required by his world, while revealing a vulnerability that allows Mike to enter his heart. The always excellent Ansa Akyea is effective as an astute physical therapist who refuses to give Mike a pass, and recognizes that healing involves the soul as well as the body.

As the coach, Twin City veteran actor Stephen Yoakam has little to do, but he does it with finesse, depicting the smarmy demeanor as kingpin of the lords of the gridiron, and his discomfort facing the fallout of his enterprise when Mike comes back in wheelchair to speak to the new crop of players about safety on the field. The hardworking ensemble players impress with their physical stamina and form, the dancers bring energy and grace to the halftime, and the drum corps maintains flawless beats that propel the forces at play.

Colossal is an energizing and thought-provoking piece of theater. It delivers emotional heft, raises important issues about men, masculinity and violence, and presents us with beautiful bodies in motion. The unique football-game structure may seem at the onset to be a gimmick, but is it well employed in the service of a terrific work of theater.

Continues through November 9, 2014 at the Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. Fourth Street, Minneapolis, MN. Tickets are $20 for reserved seats, free at the door prior to performances, first come-first serve. For tickets call 612-338-6331 or go to www.mixedblood.com/.

Writer: Andrew Hinderaker; Director: Will Davis; Music Director and Composer: Joe Pulice; Choreographer: Angharad Davies; Assistant Director: Addie Gorlin; Set Designer and Technical Director: Joseph Stanley; Costume Designer: Trevor Bowen; Lighting Designer: Karin Olson; Projection Designer: C. Andrew Mayer; Properties Designer: Sarah Salisbury; Assistant Lighting Designer: Tony Stoeri; Stage Manager: Raul Ramos.

Cast: Ansa Akyea (Jerry), Mathias Becker (ensemble), Ryan Colbert (ensemble), David DeBlieck (Damon), Darius Dotch (Marcus), Toby Forrest (Mike), Casey Hoekstra (ensemble), Torsten Johnson (Young Mike), Darrick Mosely (ensemble), Josh Wilder (ensemble), Stephen Yoakam (Coach), Ian Zahren (ensemble), featuring Gabriel Blackburn, Promise Ehimen, Charles Gehr, Malerie Gutterman, Camille Horstmann, Luis Nufio, Toby Ramaswamy, Spencer Shoeneman and Simone Thompson.

Colossal is being produced in a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere by Olney Theatre Center (Olney, MD), Mixed Blood Theatre (Minneapolis, MN), Dallas Theatre Center (Dallas, TX), Company One (Boston, MA) and Southern Rep Theatre (New Orleans, LA) with support from the National New Play Network's Continued Life of New Plays Fund. Colossal is produced at Mixed Blood Theatre by Jack Reuler.


Photos: Rich Ryan


- Arthur Dorman


Also see the season schedule for the Minneapolis - St. Paul region


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