Theater Review: THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY (Chance Theater)

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by Tony Frankel on October 12, 2022

in Theater-Regional

BOOM BOOM BOOM

It’s no wonder that Kristoffer Diaz‘s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in drama. The veneer is a hip-hop comic entertainment about the dynamics and crazy characters in the world of pro-wrestling (ya know, the kind where the outcome is known to the muscled performers, i.e., staged), but ultimately it is more about class and race than it is about wrestling. This is a knowing and fun exploration of the culture where stereotypes are heightened for entertainment. Its greatest achievement is in forcing us to ask questions about the roles we play in maintaining the status quo at the expense of human development. The notion here is that we are complicit in defining the stereotypes of ourselves that drive us mad but with which we are forced to live. That it can handle this complex universal theme while being rousingly funny makes this a winning script — sharp and fresh, if not a bit overlong, especially in the second act. Under Jeremy Aluma‘s vivid direction at Chance Theater, gasp-worthy moments on the mat are not only recreated but, as might be expected, are re-imagined as a spectacular one-ring circus in which anything flies and egos are destroyed (astounding fight direction by Martin Noyes). Even if you don’t love pro wrestling, you’ll enjoy examining — and interacting with as a WWF-type audience — the psyches of larger-than-life characters.

Aaron McGee and Rudy Solis III
RJ Navarra Balde II

As if you don’t know, the wrestling that takes place in the ring (set by Fred Kinney) is often a fake war against anything that threatens U.S.A. in all its sanctified glory. At the center of all this is not Chad Deity, despite his elaborate entrance, but Macedonio Guerra (compelling and dynamic Rudy Solis III), who is known simply as Mace, the better to identify the potential danger he represents. Mace is the Bronx-raised Puerto Rican who has to look bad in order to make Deity, the reigning champion, look good, and who goes into the ring looking like a sombrero-ed Mexican mariachi singer, and who trains other wrestlers to eventually go up against Deity.

Londale Theus Jr. and Rudy Solis III

His newest trainee is a street-smart hip-hoppin’ basketball-playing Indian, Vigneshwar Paduar (ebullient, hysterical and scene-stealing RJ Navarra Balde II — a real find), whose wrestling persona is The Fundamentalist, done up with bogus Bin Laden-like turban, so that he is both a villain and a joke. Deity, a certifiable crowd-pleaser with a Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah smile, is Black (Londale Theus Jr., who brings a hilarious edge to his sexual bravado). Before The Fundamentalist can face up to Deity, he must first get into the ring with Billy Heartland and Old Glory (Aaron McGee), a couple of good old white boys who, at the moment, are not quite as popular as Deity … which may, of course, be a temporary thing given the politics of race (while some of this 2009 script has been updated a bit, it’s astounding how Diaz rang a racism bell which we still hear ringing today).

 James Michael McHale and Rudy Solis III
RJ Navarra Balde II

These caricatures are money-makers which Everett K. Olson aka EKO (James Michael McHale) – the head of the wrestling organization that sponsors and profits from these cartoonish depictions of American types – clearly wants to keep in place because they “sell.” (Is it just me, or does “EKO” sound suspiciously like a cross between a cardiogram and the CEO of a corporation?!) In his head, they may be a wrestling team, but, make no mistake, they — and this play — are the United States of America in microcosm.

photos by Doug Catiller and Camryn Long

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Chance Theater
Cripe Stage @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma in Anaheim
Thu at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sat & Sun at 3
ends on August 14, 2022
for tickets, call 888.455.4212 or visit Chance

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