The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity – Power Hour

A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE

I was standing in line at the grocery store the other day behind a group of teenagers, and it struck me that literally anywhere can be a theater, if you try hard enough.  There were plot lines, and definitely a lot of hair, and makeup, and typecasting, and projected voices.  At one point there was even a soundtrack.  Kristoffer Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity seeks to draw a clear line between “life as performance” and one of the most ridiculously reductive genres of theater there is: televised entertainment wrestling.  Entertainment wrestling is indeed elaborate, dismissed by “intellectuals” because it’s popular with the lower class.  It’s soap opera (also easily scoffed at by the same sort of people, because women like them), with super digestible, arch-typical characters and plots that seem to stretch back for generations.  Oh, and it’s also racist.  It’s racist as fuck.

Lord knows that television wrestling doesn’t have a monopoly on racist performance but its cartoon nature, one that is so offensive that it almost loops around on itself as accidental commentary (almost)well, that is pretty unique to the sport.  Diaz’s script is messy in terms of what it thinks about this trading on, this Barnum-esque peddling of the darkest lobes of the American psyche.  And this is as it should be, because it’s fucking complicated.  When Mace (Christian Gonzalez), a Puerto Rican kid turned professional “fall guy,” finally makes it to the big time, we’re supposed to be confused as to whether that means he won or he lost.  Because Mace hardly knows anymore.  He’s not sure if he’s fucking the establishment by putting his brown skin and confrontational glare on Pay-Per-View or it’s fucking him (spoiler, yep, it’s fucking him, cheerfully, starting with that sombrero and bandoleer).  When you spend a lot of your life being shit on, told a billion different times that the only way is to pull up your bootstraps, do what you’re told, and play by the rules, you can be conned into forgetting that the whole fucking game is rigged in the first place.

Director Daniel Douek does an excellent job of making the ring come alive, and his use of a difficult space is thoughtful.  I love how sneering franchise owner E.K.O. (Jason Hentrich) is always floating above the stage on raised platforms, looking down like Cesar into a gladiator’s pit, which is perfect.  I wish, though, that Douek had a stronger directorial hand.  For instance, Mace brings his friend, Indian swaggermaster V.P. (Jehan Sterling Silva) into the wrestling fold not because he can actually wrestle, but because he’s so intensely performative, with his mastery of slimy pickup lines in every language, that he makes perfect sense in terms of the theater of the ring.  But I was never clear on how close these two actually are, their relationship seems to fluctuate, non-intentionally.  Also, we are told that the titular Chad Deity, a toothy hero on the circuit, is a really bad wrestler, but Tim German seems as much at ease with the moves as any of the other guys, so I don’t know.

Gonzalez has to carry this wordy, wordy, wordy script almost alone, as Mace narrates the majority of the show.  At times I wasn’t sure if I was watching an actor struggle with his lines or a character struggle with his love-hate feelings about the world of wrestling.  It honestly seems like the production may not have been 100% ready for prime-time, like it was close, but could have used a few more rehearsals.  What Gonzalez has, though, is fire in his eyes, and the ability to sell me, viscerally, on Mace’s pain and uncertainty.  He has a moment of breakdown near the end that made me cry.  Silva does a good job conveying how V.P.’s initial interest and amusement eventually decay into disgust as he’s asked to play a disturbing mishmash of Middle-Eastern stereotypes named “The Fundamentalist”.  German is winning and hilarious as the muscle-bound, lunkheaded Deity, and Hentrich appropriately shark-like and dismissive as money-hungry E.K.O.

This show lives or dies on the strength of how well it call sell us on the legitimacy of the action, and I will give it up to Douek, Joseph Grasso, Jonathan Ezra Rubin, and the folks at Renaissance Rumble, because this is one way it succeeds a thousand percent.  Every hold, every drop, every powerbomb and chair slam, felt almost alarmingly authentic to me.  The energy and ambition is bang on.  Fred Fletcher-Jackson, who plays a lot of “other” satiric wrestlers matched with Mace, V.P., and Chad Deity, is so, so, so good.  I mean, I’m no expert, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between Fletcher-Jackson and a real WWE member (and we can have the conversation about whether entertainment wrestling is “real” but it’ll have to be later, as I can’t hear you over the brutal body slams going on at Cohesion right now).  I wish the tech lived up to standards of the action, but the flash and glitter I crave just isn’t there.  The sound is wimpy, the set barren, and the projections kind of limp.  Costumes by Helenmary Ball pump up the volume, especially that American flag onesie, but it’s a lone light in the darkness.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, currently up at Cohesion, may be uneven and a little lacking in technical flair, but the show makes up for it with slamming energy and intensely acrobatic fight sequences.  The production is an ambitious one in many ways for a small theater, and I’m glad to say that the risk largely pays off.  Deity has a lot to say about the cringingly xenophobic underbelly of American nationalism, it’s got a huge heart, and it gives a shit.  I’m glad it was my first one back.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity runs through June 17th at “The Fallout Shelter” at United Evangelical Church.

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