SF Playhouse stages a football play

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“The reason you got hurt,” the physical therapist tells his young football-player client, in Andrew Hinderaker’s sports drama, Colossal, now at San Francisco Playhouse, “is that you played a game that hurts people.”  We might merely have nodded if we’d heard those words onstage a decade ago, but when we hear them now, they have a troubling meaning.  Mounting evidence tells us sports we may love are dangerous to the men and women who play them for our pleasure.  Because of this evidence, boxing has already taken a big hit, pun intended (participation and revenues are down), but is it possible that America’s star sport, football, might be dealt a similar blow?

Not likely, you’re probably saying, and I agree, but the way the game is played has to change.  If you don’t think so, visit SF Playhouse’s latest offering, the intense, unusual Colossal, which is set mostly on a football field, in the midst of practice, action, and a half time show.  The whole thing plays out in about an hour, divided into precise 15-minute quarters that are measured by an illuminated sign where the seconds and minutes tick off inexorably above our heads.

When the game is over, has anybody won?

Not the central character, Mike, a former University of Texas player.  He’s not even in the game.  He suffered a serious spinal injury a while back, and, wheelchair-bound, he’s struggling to regain as much mobility as he can with the help of a tough, canny therapist named Jerry, who won’t let him get away with anything, neither self-pity nor self-deception.

Matters are even more complicated for Mike.  Before his injury, he was on the outs with his father, Damon, a professional ballet dancer.  Mike was a dancer, too, but he loved football more, and when he chose it over dance, Damon angrily vowed never to speak to him again.  A dad who’s ticked off at his son for choosing football over ballet!  And you thought you’d heard it all.  There’s more.  Mike’s injury occurred when in the midst of play he impulsively tried to take revenge for a fouled fellow player, Marcus–a player who happens to be his secret lover.

Ah, contemporary theater!

The play is a punchy, fascinating one-of-a-kind, and, under the aegis of director Jon Tracy, SF Playhouse produces it compellingly, creating an amazingly convincing football field on its limited stage space (set by Bill English), illuminated by brilliant night-game lighting by Kurt Landisman that made me half expect to see the steam of the players’ breaths.  Theodore J.H. Hulsker did the reverberant sound, and Brooke Jennings designed the costumes.  Keith Pinto and Dave Maier share credit for the vigorous, and sometimes slow-mo, choreography.

A strong cast delivers an emotional punch: Mike (Jason Stojanovski) and young Mike (Thomas Gorrebeeck), Damon (Robert Parsons), Jerry (Wiley Naman Strasser), Marcus (Cameron Matthews) and Coach (Dave Maier).  Teammates are: Xander Ritchie, Brandon Leland, Ed Berkeley, Jacob Hsieh, Brian Conway and Travis Santell Rowland.  There’s a sizzling drum team, too: Alex Herster, Zach Smith and Andrew Humann.

Colossal plays on Post Street until April 3rd.  The latest in the company’s Sandbox series, On Clover Road, opens at the Strand Theater this week.  Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet, and the musical, City of Angels, finish out SF Playhouse’s season.  For tickets/information call 415-667-9596 or visit