It’s been nearly a year since Michael Sam became the first openly gay player in the NFL. He lasted exactly one season, and now plays in Canada for the Montreal Alouettes (and reportedly it’s not going so well.)
When NFL season officially kicks off next month, there will surely be some gay players on the field, but for one reason or another most of them will probably never let the world know. Andrew Hinderaker’s Colossal, a play currently on stage in Boston, takes a look at a gay football player, and on the intense physical and emotional toll taken on the bodies of athletes whose lives center around the enforcement of masculine ideals.
Colossal is currently being produced by Boston’s Company One as part of the show’s “rolling world premiere.” (The show’s previously been done in Baltimore, Dallas, and Minneapolis.) Directed by Company One’s Summer Williams, the show is played in four quarters with a clock counting down the minutes.
The play follows Mike, a gay 22-year old confined to a wheelchair after a paralyzing injury. In this production, Mike is played by Marlon Shepard, an athlete who lost the use of his legs as a teenager. A younger, able-bodied Mike is played by Alex Molina. The six actors in the show are athletes, not thespians, and the play was written with that in mind. Lots of movement, not a lot of speeches. A ominous note at the start of the written play explains the mood: “One of the guiding principles of this piece is that everyone in the cast is emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of the performance.”
Football is a pretty rough sport to begin with, and the NFL is currently on the mend from a year that was marred by personal scandals, spouse abuse, controversies over football-related concussions, race-related court battles over the offensively named Washington Redskins, and Tom Brady’s sad, deflated balls. When Steve Almond wrote his book Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto, he couldn’t have possibly imagined how bad the 2014 season would be.
Colossal is not without its precedents. Way back in 2002, playwright Richard Greenberg won a Tony Award for Take Me Out, a play about the outing and subsequent rough treatment of a gay baseball player. And on-stage athletics aren’t totally uncommon either; a few summers ago, Company One staged Kristoffer Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, a lifelike play about the world of professional wrestling. But that was a satire, and Colossal is a serious drama.
Those of us who enjoy the spectacle of football have to set aside quite a few reservations in order to enjoy the game. But for the players, even the ones that never make it past high school or college, the game can sometimes be a real tragedy.