The main character in Chicago writer Andrew Hinderaker’s latest play, “Colossal” — a theater-dance drama in a West Coast premiere at San Francisco Playhouse — is a sort of Billy Elliot in reverse, as another character jokingly calls him.
Mike (Jason Stojanovski), who’s in a wheelchair due to a spinal injury suffered in a college football game not so long ago, defied the wishes of his dance-teacher father (Robert Parsons) and went out for football instead of dance. Now Dad is his caregiver, and it’s an uncomfortable relationship for both of them.
There’s more to Mike’s story: He was in love with a skittish teammate, Marcus (Cameron Matthews).
Bereft at the loss of Marcus, the game and his healthy, mobile body, he’s unable to proceed. He’s mired in inner conflict: His former, athletic self (Thomas Gorrebeeck) haunts him, insisting he relive the past. Despite an encouraging physical therapist (Wiley Naman Strasser) urging him forward, Mike is emotionally as well as physically paralyzed.
The story is a simple one, as Mike-in-a-wheelchair struggles to free himself from the past and find a way forward.
His gay identity within the macho football culture, and society’s increasing awareness (and the NFL’s long-overdue admission) of the dangers of the game), are part of the mix, but the playwright’s focus is on Mike’s internal conflict.
But because the story is so essentially simple, the razzle-dazzle of the production elements — as conceived by the playwright and so expansively, gorgeously realized by inventive director Jon Tracy — overwhelms the poignancy of Mike’s plight.
Yet what a razzle-dazzle it is! Structured in quarters like a football game, and complete with stadium lights (designed by Kurt Landisman), overhead digital countdown clock and a fantastic drum team, the action plays out in a scant 65 minutes on an extended, football-field-like stage area (set by Bill English).
As Mike compulsively rewinds a tape of that life-changing football game when he was injured, a troupe of dancers in theatricalized football uniforms (Brooke Jennings, costumes) turns the game into an exquisite modern dance (choreography by Keith Pinto, stunt choreography by Dave Maier, who also plays the tough-guy coach).
Amid an excellent cast of 13 actors and dancers, Stojanovski turns in a particularly memorable performance; his effort to rise from his chair is heartbreaking, and on opening night his brief emotional breakdown into tears was utterly authentic.
Where: San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post St., S,F.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, closes April 30
Tickets: $20 to $120
Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org