‘Collision’ explores crucial, intriguing questions

Set in a college dorm room, “Collision” explores its characters’ attempts to form a consistent moral compass. Grange, a well-spoken, radical philosophy major, exerts a charismatic and sociopathic influence over his impressionable roommate, Bromley. He arranges for both of them to bed Doe, a classmate, and the experience irrecoverably bonds them. Grange charms Professor Denton next, and then he guides the deterioration of the foursome’s morality.

The resulting conversation is an unusual and wonderful show. Lyle Kessler, the playwright, does not feed his audience easy entertainment. Kessler simply allows the audience to watch as the four friends take on increasingly important roles in each other’s psyches, while also containing their social lives solely in one room.

However, Kessler’s storytelling is sometimes sloppy.  He leaves Doe woefully underdeveloped, and Denton’s appearance seems implausible. But the group bonding remains engaging. They perform acts of escalating violence, and the lack of a storyline becomes the most compelling aspect.

“Collision” is the rare play that manages to explore ennui without boring its audience. Even an hour in, it’s not clear how the show will end. The climax must provide either an emotionally satisfying explanation of what scarred these students or give a chilling demonstration of the horrors scarred people can inflict. The tension builds, and the students must either face their demons or explode. The resolution underlines the play’s thematic core.

The script of “Collision” intentionally ignores important questions. What about the people outside this room? Why has nobody noticed the characters’ deteriorations? What are the warning signs? Who could help and how? What kind of society lets this happen? By focusing instead on the damage that could have been avoided, Kessler leaves his unasked questions to fester and nag.

“Collision” is presented by the Rattlestick Theater Company at 224 Waverly Place and is playing now through Feb. 17.

Leora Rosenberg is a staff writer. Email her at theater@nyunews.com.

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