As a play about football, but not just about football, Colossal packs more action and drama into its four 15-minute quarters (plus 10-minute "halftime show") than most actual games. Now running at the Wyly Theatre, Dallas Theater Center's production of Andrew Hinderaker's 75-minute drama-with-dance, staged by DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty, scores big points for sheer spectacle.
Visually, it's a stunner. The Wyly interior has been transformed by scenic designer John Coyne to look and feel like a stadium, with hash-marked green turf covering half the floor and 380 seats arranged in steep rows on one side. A countdown clock ticks down the first quarter as the audience enters to the crashing percussion of a five-member drum line. On the "field," a dozen players in UT Longhorns practice uniforms run noisy drills and drop for push-ups on orders barked by their coach (DTC company member Hassan El-Amin).
Suddenly, a player on the field leaps into the arms of teammates who hold him aloft like Superman in flight. Lights change and a young man in a wheelchair rolls in from the dark sidelines. He is Mike, played by LA actor Zack Weinstein (who uses a wheelchair in real life, too). Gazing up at those players frozen mid-tackle, he aims a remote and clicks. The men do a slo-mo reverse to a few seconds before, then go through the motions again. Run, leap, click. The one in mid-air is the younger Mike (Alex Stoll, a terrific Broadway import), star running back and co-captain of the UT team. The action being watched and rewound is the lead-up to the tackle that broke Mike's spine and put him in the chair 10 months earlier.
It's an exciting and efficient way of introducing Colossal's central character with action, not dialogue. Hinderaker, a UT grad, depends on physicality, including modern dance, more than words to propel the storyline. Mike's entrance and our realization of the reason for double casting is the first of many breathtaking moments in a show that moves, pardon the expression, at a breakneck pace.
In rapid succession, those seconds ticking by on the scoreboard, we get episodes of Mike's life on and off the field, before and after injury. His father, played by DTC associate artistic director Joel Ferrell, is a choreographer who expected Mike to join his company after high school. "I was the only son in the history of the United States," says Mike, "to disappoint his father by choosing football over dance."
"You're like Billy Elliot in reverse," says his dad.
We get to know Mike's gay physical therapist (Steven Walters), who specializes in severely injured athletes. "You played a game that hurts people," he says as he massages Mike's weakened muscles.
Mike wonders why his co-captain, Marcus (Khris Davis, giving a carefully calibrated performance), hasn't visited him since that last game together. There are reasons, which become clear in explosive and sensual flashbacks.
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Colossal, written before Michael Sam tried to be the first openly gay NFL player, isn't a headline-ripper heavy on issues, but its themes are fresh and relevant. Staying on the down-low as a gay athlete. Catastrophic injuries in football. Those timeless struggles of fathers to relate to sons, of young men to see past the myopia of youthful ambition.
It's all in the play, but you won't hear it in long speeches. Instead, there's a lot of silence and then that powerful 10-minute dance sequence choreographed by Joshua L. Peugh to match the strengths of the big men in the cast, some of whom are dancers and some actors or athletes. Watch that tall ginger-haired guy, Harry Feril, one of the Bruce Wood Dance Company's stars, as he partners another player in a muscular pas de deux. Note the grace of real-life NFL prospect Travis Miller as he executes modern dance steps. Like the soundtrack of Birdman, the dancing is done to an all-drum score (composed by Nick Werth, performed by Chris Ball, Jeremy Gomez, Scott Gustafson, Morgan Palmer and Shane Snyder). Both Mikes dance, in the chair and out. Colossal is a study in how men relate physically. As teammates. As parent and child. As caretaker and cared-for. As lovers.
Director Kevin Moriarty achieves something great and important with this production, the third in a rolling series of premieres of this piece in regional theaters (it goes to New Orleans next). Colossal challenges many things theatergoers expect to see when they go to a play. Or to a football game. You may not watch either the same way again.
Colossalcontinues through May 3 at Dallas Theater Center, Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Tickets, $18-$100, 214-880-0202 or dallastheatercenter.org.