The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is about pro wrestling in all its pounding, banging, slamming, kicking performance art glory. It’s loud and obnoxious. And much of the play that just opened at Red Theater is devoted to pro wrestling. But there’s more to it than that. It’s a story about America and Americans in all their immigrant color and glory. But it’s still loud. Very loud.
The star and narrator of Chad Deity is not Chad Deity—more about him later. It’s Mace. Macedonio Guerra (Alejandro Tey), a Puerto Rican boy from the Bronx who grew up playing with wrestling action figures (not dolls) and watching pro wrestling on Saturday mornings with his brothers and his grandfather. He grew up knowing that the only thing he wanted to do was wrestle.
Mace’s ambition comes true in this play by Kristoffer Diaz, directed by Jeremy Aluma. Mace works for Everett K. Olson or EKO (Mickey O’Sullivan), the entertainment wrestling entrepreneur who runs the highest-ranked cable TV program and produces 12 pay-per-view broadcasts a year.
EKO, in his dumb creative genius way, knows that he needs to find or manufacture and book wrestlers that he can build a story and a persona around. He wants some wrestlers that his audience can love and cheer for and some that the audience can hate and boo.
Mace, who wears a classic Mexican lucha libre mask when he fights, is a talented wrestler who makes the stories work because he’s one of THE wrestlers. He’s a jobber, the perpetual loser who uses his superior wrestling skills to make the stars look good.
He says, “A really good wrestler makes other wrestlers look like they don’t suck…. The problem with that is that while you’re getting your ass kicked by guys who only look like they don’t suck because you’re making them look like they don’t suck, the audience starts to think—guess what? You’re the one who sucks.”
Chad Deity (Semaj Miller) is the champion wrestler who really sucks but looks good because of wrestlers like Mace. Chad—who is handsome and almost buff—struts into the arena tossing money to his cheering fans. His “finisher”—the move that ends the match—is the powerbomb.
Mace narrates his own story and the wrestling story that brings in a diverse cast of wrestlers—of every ethnic stereotype—for the mostly white-American audience to cheer or boo.
But one day Mace meets VP (Vigneshwar Paduar, played by Priyank Thakkar), an athletic Indian dude who can flirt with a Latina in Spanish and trash talk in English, Spanish, Hindi and Urdu plus sprinklings of Polish, Italian and Japanese. Mace recruits him to wrestling and persuades EKO that VP can be a champ.
The play is a satire on wrestling, loaded with ethnic and wrestling stereotypes. It’s an homage to the virtues of diversity but it does hit you over the head with that message over and over again. Metaphorically, of course.
Aluma’s direction sizzles and his cast of actor/wrestlers are all outstanding. Alejandro Tey gives a superb performance as Mace and the other three leading characters are talented actors and outstanding physical performers. They learned their lessons well from fight director Kyle Encinas and fight captain Will Snyder. Dave Honigman as the referee is equally agile in his slamming and bouncing.
Michael Lewis’ stage design is greatly enhanced by Charles Blunt’s dramatic lighting, Brian Lawrie’s projections, and Sarah D. Espinoza’s sound design. The wrestlers’ flashy costumes are by Hailey Rakowiecki.
Before the play begins on its wrestling ring stage, EKO and a couple of wrestlers roam through the audience to get us revved up about pro wrestling and ready to cheer, boo and do the wave. Most of the audience complies.
Kristoffer Diaz’ play premiered in 2009 at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater and then was staged at various major theaters around the U.S. and off-Broadway. Reviewers called it “flashy, fleshy and entertaining.” The script has been updated a bit with contemporary references (including a shout-out to Breon Arzell in An Octoroon). As I wrote this review, the New York Times embellished the relevance of pro wrestling with this story about a wrestler of Indian descent who plays the bad guy role. It’s in the arts section, of course, not sports.
Among Diaz’ other works is The Upstairs Concierge, produced at Goodman Theatre in 2015. It’s a farce that forgot to be funny.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Red Theater runs 2.5 hours with one intermission. It continues through September 16 at the new Strawdog Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice. Reserve tickets for performances Thursday-Sunday. Tickets are free or pay what you can. Donations are appreciated. And remember, I told you it was loud.