You know “Colossal” is going to be, well, big, before you enter the Alan Page auditorium at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. The tension builds as the house manager holds back the crowd in the compact lobby. An unseen drum corps inside the theater riles you up with ritual beats.
When the ushers finally let us in, we see men in football pads running stylized drills, and you know you’re not at a regular show any more.
If “Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet,” Tarell McCraney’s poetic coming-of-age play that recently closed at the Guthrie Theater, has so far been the Twin Cities’ fall theater season’s most absorbing production, “Colossal,” which premiered over the weekend, also ranks high.
The new play, by Andrew Hinderaker, traverses terrain similar to “Marcus.” Each deals with young men who love other men. And Darius Dotch, who played a predatory New Yorker in “Marcus,” plays a goal-oriented football captain in “Colossal.”
Hinderaker has crafted a highly schematic drama marinated in testosterone. It centers on Mike (Toby Forrest), a promising football player who suffered a catastrophic injury protecting his lover and co-captain, Marcus (Dotch).
Years later, Mike, who is wheelchair-bound, is living tensely with his father, Damon (David Deblieck), the owner of a modern dance company. Mike replays tape of the fateful injury, pausing the enacted action with his remote. He is haunted by the experience, and by his hectoring younger self (heartthrob Torsten Johnson). He gets help from his demanding physical therapist, Jerry (Ansa Akyea).
“Colossal” has three authority figures: the coach (played with tremulous emotion by Stephen Yoakam), the therapist (a confident Ansa Akyea) and the father (David DeBlieck), all of whom have conflicts with Mike. But the biggest dialectic is with his younger self.
The muscular, well-acted production, which has a big cast, smashes together the energy and ethos of American football with the lithe movements of modern dance. In its palpable physicality, “Colossal” recalls a host of shows. But the clearest is “Equus.” There’s a sense that sexual tension may explode. Surprisingly, director Will Davis actually holds back on this front.
Under Davis’s throttling direction and in a caged gridiron designed by Joe Stanley, “Colossal” checks in under 70 minutes, including a half-time modern dance show. The production is broken into four 15-minute quarters, demarcated by a scoreboard. You sometimes lose track of the time-keeper but often, you can’t help but check the time, not because you are bored, but because as the minutes tick down, you wonder, where the action will go?
There’s actual scoring in touchdowns, which makes only a little sense in this context (I suppose that if you’re going to have a scoreboard, it should have scores). Playwright Hinderaker also borrows a trick from musical theater, where several characters deliver the same lines, with distinct meanings for each in his own context. But the main influence is football, a ritual that we associate with machismo but one which this play shows is a source of moving art.