In Lyle Kessler’s Collision, a sociopathic student recruits his roommate, classmate and philosophy professor into a cult in which he reigns supreme and manipulates them into helping him complete his master plan. Amoralists Theatre company are known for their gritty, unpredictable, and morally ambiguous style of theatre.
They won’t let you down here, but the long-winded, drawn out storytelling may take its toll on theatre-goers looking for less psychology and more action.
The play takes place mostly in a dorm room in a college somewhere in the United States. Four lives collide and are changed forever. All because of one man. Grange is the protagonist in this story; his role in each succeeding scene, is to push somebody’s envelope even further. It sounds good, but convincing an audience of this is no small task.
Grange, played by James Kautz, is a definite narcissist, who, over the course of the play, starts to resemble a sort of Manson-esque cult leader. With his keen intellect and knack for persuasion, Grange knows how to control, manipulate, and intimidate others around him in order to get exactly what he wants. He preys on the weak, vulnerable, troubled, and lost, as any good cult leader would. He is a master at psychological and emotional manipulation. Through his interactions with the other characters, we witness Grange’s ability to seduce three vulnerable souls and bends them to his will.
Grange starts his recruitment with Bromley, his once suicidal college roommate at their dorm. Bromley, played by Nick Lawson, is an apathetic soul, who seems to just blend into the background of life never really being seen or heard by anyone. Bromley is easily seduced by Grange who makes it clear that he sees him and gives Bromley the kind of attention he has never experienced before. In their very first meeting, Grange succeeds in manipulating Bromley into giving up his already claimed bed over a coin toss. Grange loses, and lies about it. Although Bromley wants verification, Grange tells him he must have blind faith, especially if they are to live together and have a true friendship.
His next disciple is the pretty and naive Doe, played by Anna Stromberg. A lost soul whom he eyes in his philosophy class, Grange has devised a plan to get her into bed. While Grange brings the lovely Doe back to his room for sex, he insists on having Bromley present to share this experience with him. As Bromley discreetly hides under the sheets, Grange lets Doe know he is present and that their passion should be shared. Eventually, he convinces her to cross over to the other bed and have sex with Bromley too.
The last to be recruited by Grange is Professor Denton, portrayed by Michael Cullen. Grange despises him because he does not call on him in class. The plan is to speak with the professor at the dorm, and have Bromley strike him on cue. Grange feels that as a result, Professor Denton will look inward and have a kind of epiphany that will make him want to join their group. This is probably the most absurd part of the play. An educated professor gets assaulted by a student and then decides to stay and bare his soul to him and his friend. Most people would call security, but this one decides to stay and have a few beers instead. Of course this does all happen, and the explanation is his very empty and lonely life. A past affair resulted in his wife and kids abandoning him. Is he really desperate enough to involve himself with Grange and his group?
Each of of these three feel a desperate need for acceptance and belonging. They are now a surrogate family for each other, and a dysfunctional one at that.
Then, Renel arrives. The patient, and thuggish gun dealer. Renel is portrayed by Craig ‘muMs’ Grant. Grange tells him they need the guns for a movie they are making. It is obvious at this point that something big is about to happen, but we are not exactly sure of what.
The end is near and the clock is ticking, however, not fast enough for this play. The momentum builds throughout the show, but in the end is a bit of a let down. Although Kessler’s idea for the play is a good one, the play still falls short.
Kautz, while having a commanding presence on stage, and reeking of narcissism, still comes off as a small time, obnoxious tyrant. He is not convincing enough for us to follow him anywhere, yet alone give up our lives for him. He seems more like someone we would likely run from. Unlike stories of initial meetings with Manson that portray him as appealing and charismatic, Kautz’s Grange simply seems to lack that. “Don’t you want to be free?” he asks. Free from what? What exactly is he offering that is so much better? We never do find out.
Stromberg’s performance as a “deer caught in the headlights” Doe, is solid, while Lawson’s take as a dejected “tool” is also enjoyable.
Grant seems to be the most convincing and enjoyable character in the show to watch. He’s quite funny and his delivery of lines is right on the mark. You may even remember him as Poet from the television series “Oz.”
One hundred minutes ends up feeling much too long for the audience, ultimately hoping they will just get to it already. In the end, we are left with many questions. For someone who had so much power over others, why did he stop at only recruiting three when he clearly had the ability to control many more?
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