An energizing drum roll begins, lights come up and 10 men in football gear thunder across the stage as the audience enters UNO's Robert E. Nim's Theatre. The audience inevitably gets caught up in the thrill of a game, even as a more somber human drama unfolds. An ambitious recent work by Andrew Hinderaker, Colossal portrays America's favorite contact sports and explores how an individual recovers and discovers a new identity after a cataclysmic event.
The athletes scrimmage, huddle and shout in pre-game bonding rituals before the action freezes and Mike (Tobias "Toby" Forrest), a solitary man in a wheelchair, rolls himself to center stage. Also onstage is the uninjured Mike (Ross Britz), the team's captain before a "reckless" headlong dive derailed his future. Colossal's plot follows Mike's gradual acceptance of his new reality.
Britz brilliantly portrays the charismatic young football star whose ballet training gives him added agility on the field. Easily catapulting past players, he dodges tackles and amazes fans. But in rejecting a dance career and choosing sports, he distances himself from his father (Jeffrey Gunshol), a professional dancer.
As the rehabilitating Mike, Forrest agonizingly expresses the frustrations of a fallen athlete, now without a life goal. He watches a videotape of the disastrous play over and over, stopping it before the impact. Compounding his injuries is the loss of a romantic relationship.
The story's linchpin is Mike's physical therapist Jerry (Leon Contavesprie), who treats Mike's physical and emotional wounds, challenging him to regain trust and offering insights: "You didn't get hurt because you loved someone; you got hurt because you played a game that hurts people."
Directed by Southern Rep Artistic Director Aimee Hayes, Colossal was developed through the National New Play Network for a rollout of productions in five cities and adaptations to diverse venues.
Southern Rep's production alternates between clamorous scenes and quiet, intimate moments between characters, mirroring Mike's former public life surrounded by cheering crowds and his lonely path to recovery. While teammates lift weights, Mike struggles with rehabilitation exercises.
Beyond focusing on issues that affect people with disabilities, Colossal examines the complex relationship between fathers and sons. Colossal offers several societal messages about personal identity, heroism and what it means to be a man.