Dancing through the goalposts

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Tuesday March 22, 2016
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Jason Stojanovski, left, as an injured former college<br>football player, gets a running commentary from Thomas Gorrebeeck as his<br>younger self in <i>Colossal </i>at SF<br>Playhouse. Photo: Jessica Palopoli
Jason Stojanovski, left, as an injured former college
football player, gets a running commentary from Thomas Gorrebeeck as his
younger self in Colossal at SF
Playhouse. Photo: Jessica Palopoli

His father runs a noted modern dance ensemble, but Mike just wants to play football. "I'm the only son in the history of the United States who disappointed his father by choosing football over dance," says Mike, aware that he is living a kind of Billy Elliot -in-reverse life. Or, more accurately, was living it until he wound up in a wheelchair from a spinal injury.

In Andrew Hinderaker's Colossal, Mike tells his physical therapist that he got hurt on the field in an act of love, trying to protect the fellow player he thought of as his soulmate. He's also trying to convince himself that it was a noble gesture rather than a careless maneuver that landed him in the wheelchair. But, he must admit, the fellow player on his college team has never visited him in the 10 months since the injury.

Colossal may be astride trending topics but it doesn't come across as an issue-bound drama. Hinderaker's play, receiving its West Coast premiere at San Francisco Playhouse, is able to pack a mighty punch into its 85 minutes by creating its own dynamic format for the storytelling. It's as if we are in the stands above a gridiron, with the stage covered in artificial turf, a scoreboard with an operating clock, and eight burly guys padded up in protective gear running plays that are sometimes in slow motion, reverse, or stop action. The mental highlights reel is controlled by Mike, constantly replaying the critical scrimmage in his mind but always hitting pause just before the calamitous collision takes place. He is stuck, and it's up to his therapist, his father, and himself to get out of this psychological loop.

Colossal, which had its world premiere in 2014, is clearly a challenging undertaking, and SF Playhouse's production scores mightily as divergent components come together as the game clock fatefully clicks toward zero. This is a production where the work of the director and choreographer must frequently overlap, and Jon Tracy and Keith Pinto, respectively, present a seamless picture that includes a pre-show drum team thundering out accompaniment for a team practice, the carefully staged football plays that can freeze at any time, and a wonderful moment when the players transform into a modern dance troupe.

The essential dramatic kernels still need to take root amid the spectacle, and director Tracy is able to nurture these moments as well. Amid the large cast, there are only a few roles for whom distinct characters have been developed. But these actors and their scenes provide the production with a heartfelt grounding that leads to a simple final scene that produces a wave of emotion.

Delivering his performance from a wheelchair, Jason Stojanovski as the older Mike projects a melding of sorrow, anger, longing, and, finally, a move toward a reconciliation of his emotions and his reality. Thomas Gorrebeeck deftly plays young Mike in the flashback scenes as he deals with his disappointed father and the teammate he hopes will become his lover, and, at times, even gets into arguments with his older self.

Cameron Matthews has several potent scenes as Marcus, the fellow player who is frightened of being outed if he spends too much time with Mike. Robert Parsons cuts a forlorn figure as Mike's dad, a dancer past his prime who had hoped his son would follow in his steps. Sensitive work by Wiley Naman Strasser shows how Mike's physical therapy can offer more than simply physical recovery.

In an unusual production such as this, there are more creative roles than usual that call out for citation, including Bill English's set design, Kurt Landisman's lighting, Dave Maier's stunt choreography, Brooke Jennings' costume design, and Alex Hersler's percussion orchestrations. SF Playhouse's production of Colossal pulls all of these creative components together, and to say it scores a touchdown is tempting but too facile a wordplay. But the production is still a winner.

 

Colossal will run at San Francisco Playhouse through April 30. Tickets are $20-$120. Call (415) 9596 or go to sfplayhouse.org.