Devotees of Mixed Blood Theatre have long regarded it as a pressure cooker—the old kind, the one in Mom’s kitchen that threatened to blow the place up and blast the stew all over the walls. The artistic ingredients have generally been as explosive: race, sexuality, class, culture, identity, and dignity. Like the fast-cooker, sometimes when you let off the steam the stew is near-perfect, at other times an interesting misfire.
Colossal is as close to a perfect representation of Mixed Blood’s ambition and vision as I expect to ever see in the old refurbished firehouse, and it’s an exhilarating triumph. With two weekends remaining in its run, it’s easily on a short list of the most compelling pieces of local theater in recent memory. The play examines its issues with a mix of grace and violence, poetry and profanity, and manages to do so while quickening the pulse with risk after risk while almost never descending into anything resembling cliché.
Playwright Andrew Hinderaker’s tightly woven plot concerns Mike (Toby Forrest), who was paralyzed in a college football game and now does battle with his physical therapist (an understated Ansa Akyea, playing one of several characters who convey backstories that one suspects could sustain plays of their own) while dealing with flashbacks and his taunting pre-injury self (Torsten Johnson). Complicating matters is his complicated relationship with his dancer father (David Deblieck) and his severed romance with teammate Marcus (Darius Dotch).
The evening is loud and percussive—literally, with a drum line punctuating the proceedings and the action broken up into four timed 15-minute quarters. But softer textures also pull at the heart and bring this wholly rewarding story to visceral life, not least through Forrest’s gutty performance tracing Mike’s anger, regret, loss, and yearning as the outlines of the former athlete’s passage to adulthood resembles nothing of what he had once envisioned.
Like all the best stories, it’s ultimately about love—and how there’s rarely such a thing as an ending, just a beat punctuating the ongoing flow of experience. Colossal is the rare show that finds freedom and near-limitless exploration in its ostensibly limited format, and uses the adrenalized gladiator experience of football as a springboard for a startlingly soulful story that makes the heart hurt, long, and lurch. It’s the raw stuff of life itself: messy, profound, painful, gorgeous. It’s the artistic equivalent of the best meal of the year.
Colossal, Mixed Blood Theatre through November 9, mixedblood.com