The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Review: Professional Wrestling As Art and Politics

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” is indeed elaborate. There is a wrestling ring on the stage, klieg lights, and long moments of real – which is to say, fake – wrestling, heavily muscled characters in cartoon costumes executing body slams and the Powerbomb. We first see Chad Deity himself, the “undefeated, undisputed, unrepeated and undiluted” champ (as the ring announcer introduces him), wearing bling in a stretch limo sipping champagne with a sexy lady, thanks to one of the many videos in the show projected from two huge screens on the stage. Chad then appears in the flesh in the aisle of the Second Stage Theater, showering us with $100 bills, before he charges the stage, disrobing down to his briefs and his champion belt, all well-toned physique and arrogant, gleaming smile.

But Chad Deity, as it turns out, is not the central character of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” – that would be the guy knocked out at his feet, Mace — just as this play by Kristoffer Diaz, which was one of the three finalists this year for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, is more than an effort to re-create the experience of professional wrestling.

It is a deft if not fully realized comedy. Neither a sharp satire (would it even be worth mocking something that is such a self-conscious parody of itself?), nor a touching drama about the lives of ambitious losers (such as in the 2008 film “The Wrestler” with Mickey Rourke), “Chad Diety” offers a savvy/cynical look at the backstage machinations of this sports-like entertainment in order to make any number of points about American culture and politics.

Macedonia Guerra grew up poor and Puerto Rican in the Bronx, from the age of six playing with the action figures of the American Wrestling Association, while his brothers, much to his contempt, played with those of the World Wrestling Federation. He has now grown up to be a professional wrestler with THE Wrestling, a wrestling organization run by his boss, whom he calls EKO.

Mace, as he’s called, is such a good wrestler that he always loses; it takes real skill, he explains, to make his opponents look like champions, especially when (like Chad) they are actually not very good wrestlers.

A fixed sport, you say? “Don’t dismiss my art form on the basis of it being predetermined,” Mace argues, “unless you’re ready to dismiss ballet for the swan already knowing it’s gonna end up dead.”

His brothers, now living in Brooklyn, tell him about the coolest dude on the basketball courts of Smith Street, someone so dope that he picks up women using hip-hop phrases or Spanish or Japanese or Urdu or whatever language they happen to speak, even though he himself is an immigrant from India whose family owns businesses all over the borough. His name is Vigneshwar Paduar. Mace recruits VP into THE, where EKO dubs him The Fundamentalist, and turns him into a bearded Muslim terrorist complete with a suicide bomber’s vest. Mace is made into his sombrero-wearing Mexican revolutionary accomplice Che Chavez Castro, in a spot-on send-up of the ignorance and confusion that color most American fears and hatreds.

The inevitable complications, compromises and conflicts, and a surprise or two, are offered up by a five-member cast that is good enough not to be drowned out by the, yes, elaborate stagecraft.

Michael T. Weiss (probably best-known as the star of “The Pretender” on TV) does a wonderful turn as EKO, who is no more of a villain than anybody else who sees everything as a business opportunity. Christian Litke (as various wrestlers) and Terence Archie (as Chad Deity) are completely believable, going so far as to generate real excitement in the audience.

Thanks to the script, Chad and most of the others are given an intelligence that a lesser writer wouldn’t think to allow. They particularly shine when they are boasting live to the cameras, which are projecting their images on the screens in what is a convincing re-creation of the ringside self-interviews you can’t help but have seen at one time in your life if you own a television set

Desmin Borges is adorable as Mace, the fast-talking, hip-hopping sad-sack who holds his tongue to his boss, but tells the audience everything he wanted to say. Indeed, he is the narrator for much of what happens in the play.

As charming as his performance is, this preponderance of narration is one of the play’s problems. There is a sometimes jarring juxtaposition between Mace’s long monologues and the swift and angry action — the bone-crunching acrobatics but also the verbal confrontations. I am not sure we needed to hear Mace explain the underlying motivations and meanings when the characters were speaking to one another; it would have made for more engaging drama to let us figure it out on our own.

Another problem for me was that we are told that VP has terrific charisma, yet the actor playing him (Usman Ally), in his dress and his manner, did not strike me as any different from the many would-be rappers I walk by every day – which I suppose is part of the humor, but, like Mace’s monologues, undermines our involvement in the plot.

However lacking in drama, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” is a refreshing contrast to the last time professional wrestling was depicted in the theater district, “Teaneck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap” starring Andy Kaufman as the ref, which opened at the Nederlander Theater 27 years ago and closed the same day. Professional wrestling has arrived back on the New York stage with a smack and a crack and a thud that could not be more eloquent.

“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” by Kristoffer Diaz at Second Stage Theater (305 West 43rd Street) Directed by Edward Torres Set design by Brian Sidney Bembridge, costume design by Christine Pascual, lighting design by Jesse Klug, sound design by Mikhail Fiksel, projection design by Peter Nigrini Cast Desmin Borges as Macedonio Guerra Michael T. Weiss as Everett K. Olson Terence Archie as Chad Deity Usman Ally as Vigneshwar Paduar Christian Litke as Joe Jabroni/Billy Heartland/Old Glory Ticket Price: $70.00. Seniors: $63. Student rush: $15 Running time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission Through June 20

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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