The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
When I first heard the title of The Wilbury Group’s latest production, "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity," several ideas and images came to mind, none of which were even remotely accurate. It turns out that "Chad Deity," playwright Kristoffer Diaz’s 2009 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is about wrestling.
Wrestling enthusiasts will certainly appreciate the action in the ring, which is plentiful, but this remarkably clever, multilayered, satirical drama is a far cry from a WWE pay-per-view event and equally appealing to nonfans.
Directed by Josh Short, Diaz’s play uses the deliberately theatrical and unashamedly over-the-top wrestling industry, which most will agree is more entertainment than sport, as a metaphor for society’s views on race, culture and idolatry, while teaching its narrator, Macedonio "Mace" Guerra (Jo-An Peralta), as well as the audience, an experiential lesson about the price of fame.
Mace is a Bronx Puerto Rican, whose love of wrestling dates back as far as he can remember. Despite being the most talented, and the resident expert on everyone and everything involved with "THE Wrestling" corporation where he makes his living, Mace exists in the shadow of title champion Chad Deity (Amos Hamrick), more beloved artist than superior athlete, which is just the way promoter Everett "EKO" Olsen (Vince Petronio) likes it.
When Mace becomes acquainted with Vigneshwar "VP" Paduar (Benjamin Gracia), an Indian-American hip-hopper from Brooklyn the likes of which the league has never seen, he introduces his newfound chum to EKO as an original discovery. EKO has another idea, presenting VP as a Middle Eastern Bin Laden look-alike on a mission to destroy all things American, including the aptly named, costumed Billy Heartland and Old Glory (both played by Stuart Wilson). Mace and VP go along with this crowd-pleasing charade until they begin to question whether it will serve more harm than good, to themselves and their audience.
While the elaborate, impressive set design -- complete with an actual wrestling ring, flat-screen television showcases, accompanying video promotions, and a walkway entry ramp -- suggests a frivolous, arena-like atmosphere, the narrator, Mace, is pointedly serious, and even poignant, especially when he reveals that all he wants is to be able to tell a story.
Chad revels in the glory while acknowledging his shortcomings, EKO ultimately has to put on a show and fill seats, and VP learns that success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Each of these characters has his own cross to bear.
Peralta delivers a commanding performance as Mace, mastering the continuous series of monologues with the earnestness and authority of a seasoned storyteller. Gracia is equally sincere, but much less sedate, as the anxious but affable VP.
Hamrick shines, as well, as the consummate professional celebrity, and Wilson proves he knows how to steal a scene by movement alone, without having to say a word. The script has its flaws, but they are easily overlooked given the strength of these actors’ performances.
The socially relevant "Chad Deity" is another thought-provoking, highly entertaining production from The Wilbury Group.