Luis Galindo in Stages Repertory Theatre’s production of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Written by: Kristoffer Diaz
Directed by: Josh Morrison
Live Wrestling by: Doomsday Wrestling
Immersive Experience by: Horse Head Theatre Co.
Company: Stages Repertory Theatre
Run Dates: October 14 – November 8
If you’ll permit, a little personal history as a run-up to the review. For 3 years, professional wrestling was part of my life. My junior high school was situated just two short blocks away from my friend David’s house – a house graciously opened by his mother every day at noon so we could hang out, eat our bagged lunches and watch TV. Thankfully, the home availed us of two decent sized screens. The girls gathered upstairs to digest the audaciously un-ironic soap opera, The Young and the Restless while the boys of the bunch hooted and hollered downstairs at whatever WWF aggrandized spectacle was on offer.
On our walk back to school, the girls would yammer about the latest fight between Victor and Nikki while the boys acted out Hulk Hogan moves, salivating about who would be his next victim. During those years I did occasionally venture down into the basement to see what all the fuss was about. Between the overblown drama on display in the ring and the almost gossipy obsession the boys had with the obviously scripted wrestler-characters, I came to the conclusion that professional wrestling was basically soap operas for guys. It’s a view I’ve held since then, expanded to acknowledge the sport’s female fans. But it wasn’t until seeing Kristopher Diaz’s, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, that it even occurred to me that wrestling is also political, racial and reflects some uncomfortable truths about us and the culture we live in. Or at least that’s what wrestling metaphorically shows us in Diaz’s smartly skewering and terrifically funny 2010 Pulitzer Prize nominated play.
And by play I really mean experience as this is a show that audiences feel and smell from the minute they enter the theatre foyer. Sparkly mini-skirted ring girls pose with images of muscle bulging wrestlers, strong wafts of popcorn emanate from treats kiosk, and while we know we arrived early to the show, sounds of a live wrestling match blast into the lobby hurrying us into the theatre for fear of missing out. It’s actually just the pre-show warm up, an action-filled wrestling bout courtesy of the comedy troupe Doomsday Wrestling cleverly getting the audience cheering and booing and in the mood for a story about wrestling.
As we hurriedly take our seats and figure all this out, it’s the show’s design that strikes us first. The entire stage, save for two alcove areas at the rear of the space, have been taken up with a huge, very realistic looking, wrestling ring replete with shock absorbing floor. And trust me, there will be shocks absorbed. This may be a Pulitzer nominee but Diaz’s script, here helped by Greg Vallot’s splendid fight direction, has his characters body slamming, head-locking and jumping off ropes throughout the show.
But it all begins with “The Mace”Macedonio Guerra (a spitfire performance by Luis Galindo), an underpaid, underappreciated workhorse wrestler in THE Wrestling organization. Mace, who serves as our narrator and sociopolitical commentator throughout the show, has one job and that is to take a fall and make the handsome but lesser talented champ look good. As he explains, “In wrestling you can’t kick a guy’s ass without the help of the guy whose ass you’re kicking.” And Mace is getting to the breaking point where he’s done with helping.
Through his brother and his brother (a nice piece of poetic rap-like dialogue repetition Diaz employs throughout his script) Mace meets a fast-talking, ego centric, ridiculously charismatic late-teen East Indian kid, Vigneshwar “VP” Paduar (Herman Gambhir showing how Brooklyn swagger is done!) and hatches a plan of sorts. Mace instantly realizes that VP has way more crowd appeal than present wrestling champ Chad Deity (the muscularly adept and patriotically vainglorious Roc Living) who’s shticky elaborate entrance into the ring the play is named for. So he introduces the kid to his boss, Everett K. “EKO” Olson (played with unctuous glee by Drake Simpson), the offensively politically incorrect on every front, money grubbing head of the wrestling organization, and with some prodding gets him to hire VP him. But not until EKO comes up with the marketing gold idea of casting VP as a Muslim fundamentalist (stage name, The Terrorist) and Mace as his Mexican Communist Rebel manager (stage name, Che Chavez Castro) as foils to Chad, his smoke and mirrors cash cow . Never mind that Mace is Puerto Rican, never mind that the kid can’t wrestle and never mind that the last wrestler cast as an Arab terrorist had to leave the organization when his storyline unfortunately coincided with the 2005 London bombings. Mostly never mind how offensive the whole thing is. “I didn’t tell him”, Mace sarcastically deadpans to us here and throughout the show to great comedic effect as he encounters bigotry, unfairness and lies told in the name of the American Dream.
It’s a brilliant move by Diaz to bury these ‘who are we and where are we headed as a society’ questions in the ring. Instead of preachy we get pummelling, instead of hand wringing and head shaking we get arm twisting and head locks. And by having us laugh at these outrageous characters in an industry we’ll never belong to, Diaz cunningly slips us medicine for our own good without us really knowing it.
What we do know is that despite the entertaining and demanding physical work on stage, this is a script that feels distinctly and deliciously literary thanks to Diaz’s poetic rhythm with dialogue. Mace’s narration comes at us fast and punchy with a kind of world-weary tough guy patios that ignites his frustration in lyrical cynicism. Kudos to Director Josh Morrison for allowing this unique feel not to be drowned out by the pounding on the mat. Compliments must also go to Morrison for teasing out ridiculous, comedic, often outrageous performances from his cast while still keeping them all within the realm of plausibility.
Plausibility when it comes to costumes for wrestling has a large berth and Costume Designer, Andrew Cloud, delights with his wardrobe that runs the gamut from skin tight wrestling shorts to Mexican ponchos and flowing turbans. Scenic Designer, Kevin Holden’s revolving alcove doors at the back of the stage were splendidly utilized to usher characters dramatically on and off the small stage behind the ring. Three large video screens used for both live action caption of the play and recorded video were humorously employed and thankfully not overly relied upon by Video and Graphics Designer, Peter Ton.
By the time the show comes to its climax (after an unnecessary intermission and a second act that’s a tad too long and without the same punch) it’s Mace that Diaz has us question. What role with his, “I didn’t say anything” has he played in the mess this story (and our society) has become? Why has he kept quiet and what would happen if he spoke up? With the final moments turning more serious, we are treated to a tyrannical monologue by Mace that has Galindo ripping the stage apart in a superbly exciting moment of acting.
Thanks to Diaz and this thrilling production, we can say with great glee and possibly even some social activism, yes, we are ready to rumble!