And now for something completely different. You’ve come to expect that at THEATREWORKS, at least some of the time, and now would be one of those times. We’ve stowed the Shakespeare tent and packed up our glass menagerie. The next time you come to our theater you won’t find a stage---you’ll be ringside at the latest production of THE Wrestling. You’ll hear some noise—quite a lot of it. You’ll hear a loud and profane words. You’ll see a little sweat, and some flashing lights, and action on video screens. Some shirtless beefy men will be bouncing off the mats. For a moment or two you might think you’ve come to the wrong place. You went out for a night at the theatre, and you found yourself at a sporting event. You were looking for a play, for art, and instead you landed in the middle of an adrenaline rush.
But hold on. You have come to the right place, and what you will find is a real play, a very good play, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity does what Pulitzer finalists are supposed to do—reflect and explore the American experience. Chad Deity’s world of THE Wrestling stands not only for its real life cousin, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), but also for America itself. Not for all of America, of course, but for that very prominent engine of our culture, particularly conspicuous in an election season, which generates the myths, heroes and villains we can all wrap ourselves in.
Your host and guide for this very lively evening is a wrestler named Macedonio Guerra, better known as Mace. He’s a good wrestler too, one of the best at THE Wrestling, but you’d never know it. He’s a professional fall guy, the guy who makes other guys look good. Mace was a Puerto Rican kid who grew up in Brooklyn and fell in love with the sport and the drama of professional wrestling. He played with action figures, worked on his moves, and finally got a job with his dream company. It was all right with him that he was never going to be a champ. Mace just wants to be part of the story; one of the people who tells the rousing and inspiring stories that grip and thrill the fans in the arena and those watching on television. Mace is Chad Deity’s story teller, but the story he tells us is not quite the same as the one that the company promotes and plays out in the ring.
Back in his Brooklyn neighborhood, Mace has met a street-rapping ball player named Vigneshwar Paduar who he thinks could be the next big thing at THE Wrestling. He’s got charisma; he could be a real star. So he takes his buddy in hand and pitches him to the boss of THE Wrestling, Everett K. Olson, a slick, snaky dude with a sharp eye on the prize. Olson knows this is the land of the free, the brave, and the prejudiced. He knows we are a nation of many ethnic identities, and that these are reliably molded into emotionally charged stereotypes. Olson is no primitive; he’s not behind the times. His current champ, Chad Deity, is a handsome black man in a limo, with swagger, bling, a flashy smile, gold trunks, and an amazing body. He can’t wrestle, but that doesn’t matter---Mace makes him look good.
Image is everything and CHAD DEITY is all image---and boy can he make an entrance! But every hero needs a villain, every champ needs a contender. Every Republican needs a Democrat and vice-versa. And so Olson goes to work, transforming the hip-hop Indian into a new threat—a Muslim wrestler named The Fundamentalist, a terrorist with a deadly secret weapon, a kick called “the sleeper cell.” Mace is given a too big sombrero, some gun-belts, and re-named Che-Chavez-Castro. It doesn’t matter that Mace is actually Puerto Rican and Vigneshwar is of Indian descent —they both have the right flavor of dark skins; they both can be dressed up as blood rousing stereotypes. So now THE Wrestling has a story they can sell. Now they have something worthy of the sport that, as Mace says, “is one of the most profound expressions of the ideals of this damn nation.”
So far so good, at least for THE Wrestling and its rowdy fans. But as it happens, this new kid Vigneshwar (he’s called VP for short) has a secret mission, and no intention of following the company script. In other words, we have complications—we have drama. You’ll have to get over to our ring to find out how it’s all sorted out—but you may find yourself actually rooting for the “wrong” stereotypes.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is certainly something more than a play. We need a real wrestling ring center stage, and we need real wrestlers in it, and wrestlers with particular sorts of skins—or rather we need real actors with particular skins who can also wrestle. For your average Colorado theater, the show is a casting nightmare. Not many Puerto Rican wrestlers turned up for our Glass Menagerie auditions, I am sorry to say. Or rap artists of Indian descent. Or black men built like gods. We also need lots of sound, video, flash and smoke you can find at rock shows and at WWE events but not normally in your neighborhood playhouse. The truth is Chad Deity is a little out of our league; it’s too big, it’s just too---elaborate. But the show is a knockout, and we wanted to do it. It’s not often you find such old fashioned robust and rollicking all-American satire these days. It’s unusual to find a play that is not only about sport, but also is sport too—and when you do find one its temptation should not be refused. As it happens we were not the only people who felt this way. Our friends at the excellent Curious Theatre in Denver were thinking like us, and when we got to talking we realized if our theaters pooled resources we might actually be able to pull off this elaborate entrance in style.
And so we have! I am happy to report this in advance, because our jointly produced production, directed by Curious Artistic Director Chip Walton, has been playing for the last month in Denver. There’s something to be said for THEATREWORKS opening a show out of town, though it has never happened before and may never again. Not only does this mean that Chad Deity will makes its entrance here fully seasoned and in tune, it means the critics have already weighed in. And we are happy to say their verdicts are unanimous. “For the entire evening,” writes Westword’s Juliet Wittman, “the play’s mix of emotional intensity and over-the-top theatricality grabs us in a headlock and won’t let go.” “Thought provoking, blood-pumping, pulse pounding theatre” says John Moore at CultureWest. The Denver Post says the play, “calls for response throughout. Yea!” And Broadway World sums it up as “simply a delight . . . you do not want to miss.”
In fact you do not want to miss The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. I can fairly well guarantee this is the first and only time you will see a genuine power-bomb and super-kick on our stage. Do not try these at home. You will rarely see such pectoral muscles as those rippling on the champ. You won’t often see on a local stage such ethnic diversity, both actual and entirely manufactured. And when all these are combined with a thoughtful and provocative reflection on our national myth-making, when the mind is stretched while the blood is pumped, then you will discover how you can be entertained by theatre with total impact. This is rare—and it’s a lot of fun too. This is showtime!