The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is racist, crass, and offensive. And that’s entirely the point.
This revealing, satirical look at the scripted world of televised professional wrestling doesn’t pull any punches while laying bare the “sport’s” sordid business side. Stereotypes aren’t just the norm, they’re encouraged. Foul language is often the only way to get your point across. And exploiting America’s deep-seated fears means money.
Thanks to playwright Kristoffer Diaz and director Jaime Castañeda, audiences at the Wyly Theatre are exploring issues of class, race, and entertainment while discovering their suppressed bloodlust. The play, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama in 2010, is guided by Macedonia Guerra, known in the ring as “The Mace.” Actor Alex Hernandez is a winner as Mace, a lifelong lover of wrestling who is paid to be the loser in the ring. As he explains, his job is nothing to be ashamed of—the “bad guy” is often responsible for most of the heavy lifting, dictating which moves will come next and delivering the performances that help the audience enjoy catharsis when the “good guy” eventually vanquishes his opponent.
Fully aware of the ridiculous politics he endures daily thanks to his money-hungry and clueless boss, Mace outwardly keeps his trap shut but unloads his frustrations to the audience. To Mace, staged wrestling is an art form: “You wouldn’t put down ballet just because you know the swan is going to die before the end, would you?” To his boss, it’s a cash machine. To reigning champion Chad Deity (Corey Jones, gleefully playing shades of Terrell Owens and his “get your popcorn ready” persona), it’s stardom and validation. But when Mace encounters an Indian-American kid (Aly Mawji) with enough swagger to properly challenge Chad Deity, he takes a chance at shaking up his beloved sport.
As Vigneshwar Paduar, or VP for short, Mawji brings the hyper bravado and whip-fast reactions that make this skinny upstart hilariously endearing rather than annoying. After Everett K. Olson—owner of mega-company THE Wrestling and positively oozing with slime thanks to the efforts of Brierley company member Kieran Connolly—repackages VP into the Fundamentalist, a terrorist figure whose signature move is the “sleeper cell” kick, it’s not hard to see where this is all headed. The metaphors and thinly veiled insinuations about America, its government, and its xenophobic yet patriotic citizens are far from subtle, but that’s a word few would ascribe to wrestling to begin with.
Scenic designer Takeshi Kata embraces this loud, bright world by plunking a 16’x16’ ring into the center of the Wyly and hanging jumbo projection screens to support Peter Nigrini’s slick and sly videos (the city of Dallas and its curvy Cowboys cheerleaders make winking cameos). When combined with Clint Ramos’ blingy costumes, Lap Chi Chu’s pulsing, flashing lights, and Mikhail Fiksel’s rap-heavy sound design, the overall effect is that of a true sporting event.
Soon enough, though, we’re antsy to cut the monologues and see some mother-effing wrestling already. And do we ever. In Act II, Jamin Olivencia and fight director Christian Litke, a former a WWE pro and professional stuntman, deliver carefully choreographed wrestling moves that are nonetheless delivered with gusto. It all sure looks and sounds like it hurts.
The true accomplishment in this cutting allegorical story comes from its overall structure and insistence on audience participation. Mace, who hooks us early with his relatable childhood memories and easygoing approachability, manipulates the audience as deftly as any staged wrestling match, whipping us into a booing, gasping, hooting, clapping frenzy. However, it’s the moments when Diaz’s dialogue elicits spontaneous gasps that are the most telling. Sometimes, like a folding chair to the back of the head, it’s the blow you don’t see coming that smarts the most.
Image at top: Jamin Olivencia and Corey Jones (Credit: Karen Almond)