Saturday, January 26, 2013

THEATER: "Collision" is a Disaster in Slow, Slow Motion

Photo/Russ Rowland
Once upon a time, to borrow the banal storytelling mechanic used by playwright Lyle Kessler's pretentious philosophers, there was a critic who thought he'd seen more than his share of bad, overwritten plays. Then along came Collision, an awkward and occasionally distasteful tale of collegiate rebels bucking social conventions (often for the sake of bucking social conventions). Empty, broken characters like Doe (Anna Stromberg) and Bromley (Nick Lawson) are made to jump at the whims of Grange (James Kautz), a strong personality who provides them with purpose and the illusion of love. Even Grange's professor, Denton (Michael Cullen), goes from thinking him a sublime but grandiosely narcissistic personality to being a ravenous and cult-like follower; in the most implausible moment of the evening, Grange even convinces Renel (Craig 'muMs' Grant), a street-tough gun dealer with more than enough common sense, to accept a check for his wares.

To his credit, Mr. Kautz has a feral magnetism that's long made him a standout in the work he's done with the Amoralists (who produced this play), and he's well-matched with Ms. Stromberg, who radiates a far-from-typical vulnerability. (Her character also has the most developed back story; she's closed herself off ever since her beloved father overdosed. Yes. That's the most developed.) Lawson and Cullen are more intermittently reliable -- Lawson has a particularly intense outburst -- though that may simply be because their characters operate so much in Grange's shadow that it's hard to see them as anything more than yes-men. And to the play's credit -- or perhaps director David Fofi's -- Collision doesn't back down from showing some of the things it talks about, with Grange talking Doe out of his bed and into roommate Bromley's, or with the various acts of violence. But none of this feels serious (despite the play's change in description from "dark comedy" to "drama"): in fact, the more these characters talk, especially once they're leaping childishly about with guns in their hands, the less real it all seems.

The last, nearly intolerable twenty minutes of Collision is Fight Club without any of the satire, without any of the bite; at least Tyler Durden knows what he's doing. Grange knows only that he doesn't know why he's doing this shit, says only -- in lieu of actual motivation -- that "a miss is as good as a mile." In that, it's like watching a headless dog chase its own tail -- and the use of mixed and confused metaphors is intentional, as opposed to much of the verbal meandering and claptrap of Collision.

So yes, there once was a critic stuck writing about an unpalatable play, but then he finished the review, moved on with his life, and lived happily ever after.

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