We are sharing memories from some of our favorite shows every Friday. Here is Jack Reuler’s perspective on 2014’s COLOSSAL.
COLOSSAL may have been my favorite Mixed Blood production of the 21st Century. Playwright Andrew Hinderaker had been challenged to write the unproducible play, and I, for one, don’t have the word “can’t” in my vocabulary. With 25 actors, many of whom needed to be dancers or athletes, an amazing tale was told in exactly 65 minutes: four 15-minute quarters and a five-minute half time. The amazing Will Davis, right out of grad school, led these two dozen artists, anchored by Tobias Forrest, a performer with quadriplegia.
We had auditioned, cast, and contracted Toby long distance as he resides in LA and we in MN. I had arranged for a van service (Driving Miss Daisy) from MSP with a lift for Toby’s power chair. As we sat on the curb at Terminal 1 awaiting that van, Toby let me know he’d lived in Minnesota but left when he was nine years old. Not realizing he’d been to our fair state before, I asked what he had last done at nine. “I testified against the man who murdered my mother,” Toby confided. Seeing the look on my face, he explained:
Toby’s hippie parents moved to Hawaii when he was two. Five years later, with authorities in pursuit, Toby’s father fled and disappeared, never to be seen again. His mother moved back to her hometown of St. Cloud, MN. There she met a man, who became her boyfriend but he ended up murdering her, leaving Toby as the witness. (That person served 25 years in Stillwater.) Toby then moved in with his aunt and uncle in Memphis, where he eventually went to Valley Forge Military Academy before Northern Arizona University. His aunt/mom stayed home to help raise he and his sister along with their 2 cousins while his uncle/father owned a medical company that created devices for people with spinal cord injuries.
Shortly after graduation, Toby and some friends went to the Grand Canyon. Diving at Havasupai Falls, Toby suffered a C5 spinal cord injury, was rescued after drowning, and airlifted to Flagstaff, all the while his uncle/father calling in orders to the doctor on how to minimize the impact of the injury.
16 years later Toby returned to Minnesota as the lead in COLOSSAL playing a former dancer become quadriplegic who had been injured throwing a bad block in a football game while trying to protect his lover, the man running with the ball on his way to a championship touchdown.
For me, five minutes after meeting him, the fascinating complexity of the lead actor was more fascinating than the remarkable unproducible play itself. His relatives came in droves to fawn over their Toby and the cast of 25 vied to be his wingman. Toby Forrest allowed COLOSSAL to have the best artistic life possible, but also created community among a connected unit of actors, athletes, drummers, and dancers that ranged from 15 to 61 years old, from women to men to trans artists, gay and straight, spanning the racial continuum, and playing to adoring audiences, personifying Mixed Blood’s value of being predictably unpredictable.