No deflation here.
Company One’s “Colossal” is a fully pumped-up production of Andrew Hinderaker’s play about a college football star battling a devastating injury. It comes complete with artificial turf, a video scoreboard, goalposts, tackles, and whistles, even replays on rewind. The audience sits on either side of a bright green playing field as if in the grandstands. The play is divided into four 15-minute quarters, ticked down by a scoreboard clock. There’s no intermission, but there are halftime performances by a three-man drum corps and — less expected — a modern dance company!
Yes, this is another we-like-challenges Company One production, echoing the high-stakes physicality of 2012’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.” Director Summer L. Williams, one of the troupe’s founders, choreographs it all with panache, but the gridiron excitement never overshadows the story at its heart.
Mike was “a Billy Elliott in reverse,” a dancer who found joy putting his grace and athleticism to work in the brutal game of football. Now he is badly injured, confined to a wheelchair, and rebelling against his physical therapist. The central mysteries include what, exactly, his injury had to do with his halting romance with another player, Marcus.
Hinderaker reveals his tale little by little, jumping back and forth in time, leaving realism behind to portray what’s going on in Mike’s head and heart. For starters, Mike is played by two different actors, Alex Molina as the exuberantly physical Young Mike, and Marlon Shepard as present-day Mike, who is anything but. They’re often in scenes together. We see present-day Mike in his wheelchair, rolling among the players in a freeze frame of the fateful play, including Young Mike an instant before his injury. Later, the two talk to each other and even argue, Young Mike trying to goad present-day Mike out of his despair.
There are about a thousand ways a production like this could go wrong, but Williams and her team march it downfield with Belichick-ian precision, toward a big emotional score at the end.
Shepard, a multi-sport athlete and paraplegic, is making his professional acting debut. He powerfully plays the confusion, despair, and breaking heart of present-day Mike. Molina is a former college footballer with an impressive physique and a winning smile, but he shows you the grit inside Young Mike. He also gets to make the best Donald Trump joke ever.
Molina appears to be about twice the size of Shepard. If you haven’t read the program, it might take you a few minutes to realize they’re playing the same character at different times, but that yawning gap between before and after is part of the point. By the start of the second quarter most people will have absorbed the casting and moved on.
Hinderaker packs a lot of bells and whistles into an hour and 15 minutes. Maybe as a result, one place the script comes up short is in the development of characters other than the two Mikes. Marcus (Anthony Goss), Mike’s father (show choreographer Tommy Neblett), and the coach (Damon Singletary) are X’s and O’s who run their routes through the story but never take on much dimension. The exception is local stage veteran Greg Maraio as Jerry, Mike’s physical therapist, who butts heads with him even more than Young Mike does.
Kudos also to the six members of the ensemble, who hurl themselves into the football fray, then switch gears at halftime for the dance performance. And the three members of the drum corps are not only skilled percussionists but hilarious; most audience members seemed like they’d happily come back for a play about those three.
The sinuousness of the dance and the pounding of the drums invoke the two sides of football: the seductive fluidity of motion and the cost of those explosive collisions under the bright lights. Although the play obviously confronts some current issues, that yin-yang is at the center of this highly entertaining show.
Play by Andrew Hinderaker
Directed by Summer L. Williams
Choreography, Tommy Neblett. Football expert, Adrian Hernandez. Scenery and projections, Kathryn Lieber. Costumes, Meggan Camp.
Lights, Annie Wiegand.
Sound, Darby Smotherman.
Presented by Company One Theatre
At: Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, through Aug. 15
Tickets: $25-$38, www.companyone.org, 617-933-8600
Joel Brown can be reached at email@example.com.