Colossal — Image via mixedblood.com

Colossal

Mixed Blood Theatre
Directed by Will Davis

Andrew Hinderaker’s new play Colossal, which is currently being performed at Mixed Blood Theatre (directed by Will Davis), combines frenetic pacing; rousing sound; and stories of injury, redemption, and reconciliation. In the play’s press materials, Hinderaker takes issue with a prominent theater critic’s claim that “sports should rarely, if ever, be portrayed on stage because theater will inevitably fail to capture how visceral and violent sports can be.” Not believing theater is, as he puts it, “too tame to tackle something so violent,” Hinderaker successfully laces his play with sucker punches to both the heart and the head. Along with its numerous emotional impacts, Colossal tackles its audience with a soundtrack that, in the words of my fellow theater-goer, seeks to “break down our minds so that it can build us back up in the way it wants to,” as well as balletic movement that is simultaneously beautiful and exhausting to watch.

Colossal — Image via mixedblood.comRunning for four fifteen-minute quarters like a football game, Colossal tells us the story of Mike (Toby Forrest), a university student who abandoned his career as a dancer in favor of football, fell in love with his fellow team captain Marcus (Darius Dotch), and was injured during a game in which he attempted to keep Marcus from being hurt by a player from the opposing team.

Throughout Colossal we see Mike forging relationships with several men: Marcus, obviously, but also his coach (Stephen Yoakam), physical therapist (Ansa Akyea), and choreographer father Damon (David Deblieck). Mike is also in nearly constant dialogue with his younger, pre-injured self (Torsten Johnson), who often taunts the now wheelchair-bound Mike, telling him that, now that he is disabled, no one cares how his story will end — even going so far as to tell the audience that they should leave the theater. Given the younger Mike’s ability to force his older self into deep despair, a large part of the play focuses on the older Mike’s eventual ability to silence his former self and make peace with a past that would like to haunt him indefinitely.

Colossal — Image via mixedblood.comSimilarly, Mike is, at play’s end, able to repair his relationship with his father, who never wanted Mike to play football in the first place. Mike’s many interactions with the men in the play, and the ways these interactions bleed into each other, pose the question of how men can forge intimacy and empathy with one another once the scaffolding of football, a game which allows men to express emotions that might otherwise be taboo, has been removed.

The paradox of loving something or someone even when the risks are significant is a theme that is emphasized when Jerry tells Mike, during a therapy session, how many former football players he has as clients. Whereas Mike wants to masochistically insist that it was his closeted love for Marcus that led to his paralysis, Jerry assures him that football’s inescapable violence is to blame. This conversation invites both the characters and the audience to consider the irrationality of loving something that is clearly hazardous. There is beauty in the pain inherent in both football and love, the characters seem to decide, and neither loving nor playing is something that should be abandoned merely because of the risks they pose. This isn’t to say that Colossal entirely absolves football of the potentially deleterious effects, both emotional and physical, that it has on impressionable young men. If football is our nation’s collective obsession, but also glorifies violence and brute strength, how, the play asks, can we be surprised when those who play it end up damaged?

Colossal — Image via mixedblood.comMixed Blood is known for productions that, in artistic director Jack Reuler’s words, “show people with difference coming together and being better for having convened.” Certainly Colossal depicts these encounters of difference and shows how they impact identity found, lost, and found once more. In doing so, Colossal interrogates race, sexuality, gender, and ability. But rather than being an issue-driven play, the production is centered on story first. Although Colossal constantly asks us to reexamine assumptions about who is “allowed” to be gay and who isn’t, what an “able” body is, and how masculinity is constructed both within and without the realm of sports, at no point does the production feel like it is checking boxes. Rather, it feels like a story revolving around the lives of complex characters struggling to understand the norms and restrictions of their society and their own places within it. Just as Mike does not want his past to be wholly constitutive of the person he is learning how to be when we meet him, characters in the play refuse to allow vague and incomplete identity markers such as “gay” or “disabled” be the entirety of who they are as people.

Colossal is a highly rewarding, nuanced, and rousing theatrical experience. It will be at Mixed Blood until Nov. 9.

Photos by Rich Ryan

Published by

Emily Anderson

is completing her Ph.D. in English at the University of Minnesota. She teaches literature and writing at several local educational institutions.