Have you heard of testosterone injections? They’re not something the cast of Asolo Rep’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is in any need of. This Kristoffer Diaz comedy about what lies behind the scenes of televised wrestling is a fist-bumping, adrenaline-filled ride that will leave the audience feeling that maybe they just had a shot themselves.
From the moment you enter the rearranged Cook Theatre, to the sounds of hard-driving sports anthem music, the flash of big-screen video projections of the fighters of THE Wrestling, and a set designed to place at least some of the audience up close and personal to the wrestling ring, this 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist is in your face, and if you can’t stand the noise, the energy and the rush, you’re forewarned now to stay away. Under the direction of Jen Wineman and with a cast of muscled, sleek actors ready, willing and able to engage in the physicality of the piece, Chad Deity is, much of the time, a hoot.
Chad (Garrett Turner) is THE Wrestling’s champion, a gleaming-toothed, charismatic African-American success story, decked out in all the bling he can muster. But he’s not the hero of the play, even though his name is in the title. That role belongs to Macedonio Guerra, better known as Mace (Pierre-Jean Gonzalez), a Puerto Rican who grew up in the Bronx watching and loving the wrestlers he saw on TV. Now he is one, except, although he’s technically a better wrestler than Chad and others, he’s not allowed to win. Apparently, it takes more talent to be the loser, and Mace is more or less accepting of the role imposed upon him by the money-mad head of the organization, Everett K. Olson (EKO, played by Scott Aiello).
That is until he meets up with Vigneshwar Paduar, aka VP (Raji Ahsan), a trash-talking, skirt-chasing Indian-American who seems able to play just about any role he wants to. So, even though he knows nothing about wrestling moves, Mace sees a chance with VP to take control of the story being told in the ring to fans willing to embrace such corny participants as Billy Heartland, Old Glory and the wrestler known simply as The Bad Guy. VP will become the unlikely combatant known as the Fundamentalist—a pan-Arabic-Muslim character that suits the need for a new villain to despise.
It sounds crazy, but it just might work.
Just about every time you think Diaz’s absurd notion can’t go any farther, it does. And just about every time you think that the wrestlers (especially Turner) can’t invent a new, crazed facial expression to denote their exaggerated show biz hate or anger, they do.
There is a message to this show, about how Americans (here represented by the wild world of wrestling, where everything is staged and everyone knows it) are always rewriting the story of who the “bad guy” is, according to ethnicity or culture. But you really only have to feel sober about that towards the end of the evening. The rest of the time, you’ll be laughing out loud.
Wineman extracts bravura performances from her cast, and the audience is encouraged to play along too, with cheers, boos, hisses and the like. But while everyone onstage seems at the top of their game, the linchpin of the whole thing is Gonzalez as Mace—someone we are rooting for from the moment he starts telling us his story and about his love for his sport. “Don’t dismiss my art form on the basis of it being predetermined,” he tells us, unless you want to dismiss ballet on the grounds of “the swan dying.” He almost convinces us.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity continues through April 30 at the Cook; for tickets, call 351-8000 or visit asolorep.org.