There’s a lot more to football than concussions, at least as the sport is portrayed in Andrew Hinderaker’s play “Colossal.” The lead character is suffering from a spinal injury that has left him unable to stand — let alone walk — and the physical therapist who’s treating him rattles off a litany of other injuries he’s confronted lately, involving just about every joint, muscle or bone in the body. With nary a cranial disaster in the lot.
But there are also noninjury aspects to American-style football in the ambitious but underwhelming West Coast premiere that opened Saturday, March 19, at San Francisco Playhouse. As seen at Friday’s final preview, there’s also grace, macho posturing, lots of drumming, homophobia, dance, teammate romance, father-son conflict and many replays. Not to mention a message as all-American as a country song: Fathers, don’t let your sons grow up to play football. (The same holds for daughters, but there aren’t any in this play. Nor mothers.)
And, mind you, this is just football as played at the college level.
As the title indicates, “Colossal” is a big project for the Playhouse to take on, and the company does a credible job under Jon Tracy’s direction. It’s a play structured like a football game, complete with a large digital countdown clock — keeping track of each of the action’s four quarters — hanging above the Astroturf-green gridiron set by Bill English. Most of the 13 actors are busy doing pretty exhaustive looking pushups, stretches and running-in-place exercises for a good 15 minutes as the audience enters (this is the pregame show), in perfect time to the terrific drum corps of Alex Hersler, Zach Smith and Andrew Humann.
It’s also a story told in part through a mix of dance and football, thereby requiring two choreographers — Keith Pinto, for the athletic modern dance, and leading local fight choreographer Dave Maier, who plays the college team’s by-the-book, pep-talk-focused Coach, for stunts. The problem with this, though, is that it’s often hard to tell what’s supposed to be going on in the football-field and -practice action, especially the repeated pile-on (those replays) that caused protagonist Mike’s spinal injury (admittedly, this may be less confusing for those with some understanding of how the game is played).
But what may most distinguish Chicago playwright Hinderaker’s “Colossal” from other recent plays and films about football is that it’s less centered on the so-called sport’s terrible toll of injuries than on the question of the degree to which college-star Mike is responsible for the one he suffered. That’s what consumes Jason Stojanovski’s intensely private Mike, from the confines of his wheelchair. As it does the Young Mike (a fiercely competitive, athletic and aptly tender Thomas Gorrebeeck) who acts out Mike’s football career, a somewhat one-sided love affair with co-captain Marcus (a fine Cameron Matthews in an underwritten part) and battles with his father, Damon (the magnetic Robert Parsons) over choosing football over Damon’s modern dance company.
Stojanovski is riveting in the rawness of his mental pain. His scenes with Wiley Naman Strasser’s tirelessly probing therapist and in coming to terms with Parsons’ Damon are the dramatic heart of “Colossal,” and his efforts to rise from his wheelchair are searingly intense. But his story gets a bit lost within all the noise and boisterous, somewhat too repetitive choreography. As striking as the final scene is, I wouldn’t have known the play was over if it weren’t for the clock.
Colossal: Drama. By Andrew Hinderaker. Directed by Jon Tracy. Through April 30. San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., S.F. 65 minutes. $20-$120. (415) 677-9596. www.sfplayhouse.org.