The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
For its 21st Anniversary Season, the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley has chosen to open with the Bay Area premiere of "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity." It’s an auspicious selection; if Aurora continues in this vein, they have a killer season on the way.
"The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" is a play about professional wrestling. But, like any good drama, its subject matter is merely a vehicle to examine far wider issues. So, if your instinct is to turn up your nose at a play set in a cheesy world where men in tights engage in choreographed conflicts and women are nothing more than bikinis, breasts, and beaming smiles, think again. In fact, be prepared to think a lot.
Kristoffer Diaz’s exceptionally intelligent script was short-listed for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and won an Obie Award for Best New American Play. The acclaim is well deserved. Diaz does an exceptional job of parsing the racism, thunderous nationalism, unmitigated capitalism, and shameless artifice of professional wrestling.
Yet he also clearly loves this strange hybrid of entertainment, violence and sport. And it is this affection that makes the play’s humor so effective. So while Diaz makes you think, he also makes you laugh, and laugh a lot.
Diaz’s critique is delivered primarily through Mace (Tony Sancho), a young Puerto Rican from the Bronx whose love of wrestling dates back to when he was six years old. He grew up wanting nothing more than to join his heroes in the ring. But, as an adult, he’s very aware of the contradictions of participating in a profession that plays to the ugly underside of the American psyche.
Still, Mace is proud of what he does for a living, telling the audience not to "dismiss my art form on the basis of it being predetermined unless you’re ready to dismiss ballet for the swan already knowing it’s gonna end up dead."
But in the world of THE Wrestling (the corporate behemoth that controls every aspect of Mace’s career), skill doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, Mace’s skill means he’s the guy who has to do the work to make the champ, Chad Deity, look good.
Chad has created a powerful and charismatic wrestling persona that leaves the crowds in his thrall. He wears glittery gold pants, has a blindingly bright grin and throws dollar bills around the ring. His signature move is the Powerbomb in which he hauls his opponents onto his shoulders then slams them to the floor. It’s a move he’s only able to execute with considerable assistance of opponents like Mace: guys who know how to make Chad’s Powerbomb look effortless and at least a little bit real.
When we meet Mace, he’s almost resigned to his role of literal fall guy. Until he finds an ally in the sharp, swaggering and street smart Vigneshwar "VP" Paduar. The two soon hatch a scheme to launch themselves to the forefront of THE Wrestling by adopting outrageously offensive personas bound to appeal to their audience.
Mace becomes Che Chavez Castro, sombrero-wearing, bongo-toting (yes, bongos) Mexican immigrant and revolutionary. VP is The Fundamentalist, a crazed Middle Eastern terrorist whose signature move is soon dubbed "The Sleeper Cell" by THE Wrestling overlord, Everett K. Olson, AKA "EKO".
Needless to say, as the story progresses, Mace and VP find themselves in ever more complicated territory: in an escalating conflict with the surprisingly savvy Chad Deity and a high stakes battle with their own awareness of what’s right.
Tony Sancho makes a compelling and immensely sympathetic Mace. As main character and narrator, his task is not only to embody a nuanced and sympathetic lead but also to establish a strong rapport with the audience. He does both these things with ease.
Rod Gnapp brings the required cunning and macho aggression to corporate ruler EKO. As VP, Nasser Khan is a likeable egoist arrogant enough to think he can outfox THE Wrestling. And Beethoven Oden’s Chad Deity is magnetic, charming, crafty, and hilariously full of himself.
"The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" plays well in the Aurora’s intimate environment. The production’s lighting, sound, and creative use of video combine well to allow the audience a sensory glimpse into the hyped-up world of wrestling without overwhelming the story or its finely drawn characters.
Director John Tracy paces the action well and has worked with fight director, Dave Maier (who also doubles as several of The Fundamentalist’s unfortunate opponents), to create convincing action in the ring.
The play runs perhaps just a little long at about two hours. And the wonderful script is marred by a failure to fully grasp its dramatic climax, leaving the audience slightly nonplussed at the end. Nevertheless, the production is stellar and well worth the price of a ticket.
Mace may always be the loser-the guy who does all the heavy lifting to keep charismatic but unskilled champs like Chad Deity on top. But in this production, the Aurora Theatre has picked a winner. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is a high energy combination of laughs, political satire and social insight.