Chance Theatre’s ‘The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity’ wrestles with race
Completing its run at the Chance Theatre last weekend, Kristoffer Diaz’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” is a rare play that entertains and provokes in the same breath. Set in the campy theatrical world of professional wrestling, the story focuses on a likable young wrestler and his fast-talking protégé—both men of color—as they navigate being played and consumed by a seedy capitalist system.
As directed by Jeremy Aluma, the play is set in a wrestling ring (designed by Fred Kinney) surrounded by bright lights (Kara Ramlow) and large screens projecting ring action and pre-recorded video that helps visualize the story (designed by Nick Santiago)—all creating a “live” feel as at a wrestling event.
Adding to that feel, the audience is directly involved with characters breaking the “fourth wall” by speaking to us and responding to our cheers and boos. We enjoy being drawn in by the characters, but are also implicated in the play’s social critique—forced to consider for ourselves where we stand on how the main characters are treated and what it means for who we are as a nation.
Narrator Macedonio Guerra (Rudy Solis III), or Mace for short, is a skilled wrestling “jobber” paid to purposely lose to make other wrestlers look good. But he is also the endearing son of Puerto Rican immigrants who grew up eating frosted flakes, watching wrestling with his brothers and playing with wrestling action figures, eventually landing his dream job on the pro circuit.
His brothers at home in New York, meanwhile, tell him about a slick, smooth-with-the-ladies Indian-American boy—Vigneshwar Paduar (RJ Navarra Balde II), or VP for short—whom they see while playing basketball every weekend, but whom they would also pay to see. This gives Mace the idea to recruit VP into the circuit.
But what to do with a boy who so glibly glides between cultures, speaking multiple languages (English, Spanish, Hindi and Urdu) and posited by Mace as a member of a new world order that potentially leaves America in the dust?
That is up to hilariously slimy white circuit director Everett K. Olson (James Michael McHale), or EKO for short, as greedy and base a capitalist as there ever was, with input by the muscly African-American Chad Deity (Londale Theus Jr., understudied by Duane Robinson in the final show)—the wrestling tour’s superhero winner but otherwise flimsy character whose “elaborate entrance” involves a blinged-out entourage shelling out dollar bills to the audience.
They decide to reduce VP to an anti-American caricature based on stereotypes of his skin color and the vague part of the world he derives from, ultimately dubbing him “The Fundamentalist” and donning him in a turban that is not even Muslim, holding prayer beads more common to Greek Orthodoxy.
This treatment awakens in Mace resentment about how he himself is treated—especially after EKO transforms him into Mexican terrorist “Che Chavez Castro.” Together, Mace and VP conspire to make their villainous combo work for them rather than EKO. However, their attempts at subversion only lead to success with the wrestling audience, allowing EKO to reincorporate them into his capitalist pocket.
How to escape the system? VP leaves, choosing not to play. But Mace stays, and even submits to Chad Deity—only he decides to tell his own story in the ring first. That makes all the difference in an ending narrated by VP, watching the match on his television with a girlfriend whose sympathies reveal what happens as a result.
The actors in Chance Theatre’s production were uniformly excellent. Solis and Balde made a sympathetic duo while retaining their respective characters’ unique qualities—Mace’s congenial narration, sensitivity and love of the sport (clasping his hands in front of him when talking to superiors) and VP’s acerbic wise-cracking, trash-talking truth to power.
McHale simply owned his role as the smarmy cigar-smoking, tuxedo-wearing EKO. And Aaron McGee deserves a shout-out for playing three distinctly “American” wrestling characters—The Bad Guy, Billy Heartland and Old Glory—each defeated by VP’s single superkick (dubbed “Sleeper Cell” by EKO).
To good effect, Aluma added more wrestling to the first act than was scripted, balancing the play’s dialogue with increased physicality (and the amount of training the actors underwent, with fight direction by Martin Noyes), and equally engaging video projection.
“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” thus proved an immersive experience on many levels—as theatre, wrestling as theatre, our lives as performance, the power of telling our own stories—all viscerally felt and not soon forgotten.
Chance Theatre performs on the Cripe Stage of the Bette Aitken theater arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" ran from Sept. 23 to Oct. 23 with a run time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, with intermission.
Chance Theatre's next scheduled production is “Little Women – The Broadway Musical,” from Nov. 25 to Dec. 23. For tickets and information, call (888) 455-4212 or visit ChanceTheatre.com.