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A CurtainUp Review
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
We've never seen this before — an InterAct production up the street at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. The space is not a whole lot bigger, but there's room for the enthusiastic audience to sit around three sides of the ring. Quite a departure for InterAct in staging and feel, but playwright Kristoffer Diaz's ideas are right up their alley.
In an inspired theatrical choice, wrestling is demo'd in the ring before the show officially starts. It pulls you in. Two wrestlers carefully choreograph routines so no one gets hurt, and remind each other to work the crowd. (One actor is Eric"The Smoke" Moran, a real wrestler.) Complicit, they help each other out, the loser helps the winner with what goes down.
Enter Latino wrestler Macedonia Guerra, aka Mace. This is his show. Juan Pacheco's Mace is lean and smart with shining eyes and a nimble tongue. He is an insider, our guide. He speaks his wisdom in crazy street talk, asides and critiques, and brings everyone on board. Not a celebrity like Chad Deity, he's the secret behind Chad's success. He makes Chad look good. Mace explains it all. You already know professional wrestling is fake. Now you learn how it's done. He elaborates on how losers have to lose for the winners to win."You can't kick a guy's ass without the co-operation of the guy whose ass you're kicking."
Juan Pacheco has a gazillion lines and carries the story on his back. What a fine actor in an enormous role! Mace's saavy view is pointed and funny as hell. He describes showmanship and deconstructs it at the same time. He speaks directly to the audience. At one point, after a contender gets pummeled in the back with bongo drums, Mace points directly at the Philadelphia Inquirer critic in the audience and yells, "You! Glasses! Remind me to talk about inanimate objects."
Chad (Donte Bonner) is "our vision of our collective selves." He is a hyped up American dream. Bonner is a very fit black man. (It looks like Black is ok for the American Dream, as long as he's not foreign or poor.) Sleek, not bulked up like a wrestling animal, Bonner's Chad glitters in tiny gold wrestling shorts and he talks about himself in the third person.
We get the inside track on how personas are chosen in this federation called THE Wrestling. It's good guy against bad guy —, the American way against outsiders, terrorists, Latinos, and so forth in the unthinking, inaccurate, routine racism of the wrestling ring. Besides Chad Deity, the good ole Americans include Billy Heartland and Old Glory (Nick Martorelli). Ring identities are paramount. THE Wrestling promoter Everett K. Olsen is played by '08 Barrymore Award winner Jeb Kreager, who can do serious, all-business, sleaze. Olsen declares, "What wrestling needs right now is a Muslim Fundamentalist."
Mace becomes the handler and baddie partner of Vigneshwar Paduar (Shalin Agarwal), an Indian man from Brooklyn. VP for short. He likes hip-hop and chatting up the audience about scary stuff like outsourcing tech jobs and a family-run gas station. He will become The Fundamentalist. Agarwal totally does his part.
Newly cast as ultra-baddie extremists, Mace and VP are all about fear. They are out to defeat the good guy, Chad Deity. They spew offensive verbal garbage and stare down the camera. Olsen, the impresario chasing ticket sales says, " It makes my spine shiver in glee."
In the end Diaz's play packs a lethal slam in a tiny question that sobers you up even as you're laughing. Is it wholly deserved in our fledgling, hopeful and earnest age of Obama? I guess we'll see.
Under the insightful direction of Producing Artistic Director Seth Rozin, InterAct's large production team has created a bright, crass, exciting world. They reached out to the wrestling sector for verisimilitude, and Tony "Hitman" Stetson served as a wrestling consultant and co-choreographer.
As its stunning World Premiere winds down in Chicago, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is just gearing up in Philadelphia. It is fabulously entertaining and all-out fun, even as quiet, simmering rage seeps through dressed as irony about ridiculous, damaging federation profiling.
How to explain how it sparkles? Playwright Kristoffer Diaz's creation is a skillful mix of wrestling posturing, pizzazz and vulgarity. Allegory dressed up in non-stop, hilarious, tasteless, brilliant commentary.