Not every drama has a choreo-grapher or conditioning sessions, but Colossal may be the only one that requires an offensive coordinator. Southern Rep enlisted former Jacksonville Jaguars and Tulane University quarterback Lester Ricard to design plays for its production of Andrew Hinderaker's football play, which Southern Rep opens at UNO's Robert E. Nims Theatre this week.
"There are lots of one-man shows about sports," says director Aimee Hayes. "This is about playing the game. There are men onstage running and hitting. I think sports get us into our primal selves. It's about competition and pushing ourselves to our limits."
Colossal is staged like a game, complete with pre-game warmups, four quarters of action and a halftime show. Most of the cast wears full football pads (though not the Longhorn uniforms of the University of Texas at Austin, where the play is set). Throughout the show, a drumline pounds cadences meant to pump up the energy for spectators.
The energy and testosterone level are part of the bonds between teammates and excitement for fans. Colossal explores male relationships, and how teammates and fathers and sons and players and coaches communicate nonverbally. It also explores the game's biggest risks: catastrophic injury. At the center of the play is Mike (Tobias "Toby" Forrest), pictured, who's suffered a severe neck injury while playing football. Now using a wheelchair, he encourages teammates, blaming himself for his injury and telling them, "There's a difference between being fearless and reckless." He fights to remain connected to the team as he tries to reconcile his life — after losing the opportunity to play professionally.
Forrest is reprising the role. He starred in one of the show's rolling premiere productions in Minneapolis. Forrest's life mirrors Mike's in that he suffered a severe neck injury while swimming in the Grand Canyon. A dive into shallow water almost killed him.
"I was a very athletic person before I was hurt," Forrest says. "I was a gymnast. I was a rock climber. I was a snow skier. I had a lot of the same personality that Mike has — reckless, let me throw myself up against any challenge. When I got hurt, I thought, 'All right, this is going to be a sport. It's going to be the toughest sport I have to play, but I am a competitive person.'"
Forrest's father owns a company that designs spinal implants, and he knew that a rehabilitation center in Miami was best suited for Toby to recover. As he did, Toby began studying psychology, thinking he would become a therapist. When he wrote a short monologue about a man suffering from Alzheimer's disease for a class, friends encouraged him to try acting.
Forrest had been in a band in college, and he liked performing. He moved to Los Angeles, where a performance of the monologue won him a scholarship from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. It helped him pay for acting lessons and he began his acting career. Before coming to New Orleans for Colossal, he finished filming Special Unit, a politically incorrect action comedy staring Christopher Titus. Forrest also has appeared in Weeds, Six Feet Under and commercials for Petco and Wal-Mart. In Colossal, he revisits some of his own experiences.
"I went to military school," he says. "I know what a testosterone-fueled environment is, especially for young guys. It's about proving yourself. It's about one-upping the next guy. It's about encouragement and embarrassment. That was another cool thing. I thought 'Wow, you build the audience up with all this energy and testosterone with something they're familiar with, and then you tear open all these unseen scars that come with it.' ... What seems very simple, or difficult, just opens up this kaleidoscope of story lines."