Kamal Angelo Bolden, Lou Sumrall and Alex Hernandez in The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.
Photo by Alan Simons.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Written by Kristoffer Diaz
Directed by K.J. Sanchez
A review by Keith Waits.
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I see a lot of plays, many of them good, some great, but only a rare few are as much of a triumph as the production of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity that just opened at Actors Theatre.
The fast-paced, hilarious, yet thoughtful satire by Kristoffer Diaz received an Obie for Best New American Play (2011) and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The first act was so swift and outrageous in its depiction of the world of professional wrestling, eliciting a riotous response from the audience, that it was easy to question such lofty recognition, however wildly entertaining this production proved to be. Yet the deeper exploration of themes concerning our appetite for racial stereotypes in popular culture and the struggle to maintain personal identity is so carefully woven into the story that their impact can only be fully measured in the play’s poignant final moments.
The evening begins with a curtain speech delivered, with appropriate bombast, by Apprentice Company member Nick Vannoy in the overemphatic manner of a WWF announcer. It perfectly set the tone, priming the audience to the role they play in the proceedings and neatly kicking off director KJ Sanchez’s elaborate staging. This is Ms. Sanchez’s second straight production in the Bingham Theatre and she is very at ease with the space, utilizing every square inch of the room: littering it with confetti and fake money, placing hand-painted signage in the amongst the audience members, shooting the action with video cameras projecting onto four large screens; she unashamedly uses every trick to bring to vivid life the razzle-dazzle of this particularly vulgar corner of show business.
Yet the script, through the central character of Macedonio “The Mace” Guerra (it is not really Chad Deity’s story, although he is the champion), finds a unique perspective on what has always seemed to be a wholly fake and ridiculous environment, finding unexpected dignity in the mission of these performers. Mace takes pride in his skills and the fact that he has fulfilled his dream to work as a wrestler, even one whose job it is to make the champion look like he knows what he is doing when he actually doesn’t. But his ambition leads him to compromise himself in surprising ways, as he embraces the most objectionable ethnic stereotypes, framing the moral question that gives the play just enough gravitas and almost no pretention.
The sharp and brilliantly constructed dialogue is dense and challenging, and Alex Hernandez as Macedonio tackles it with such expert skill and focused energy, it is hard to believe that this young, former ATL Acting Apprentice entered the production as a last-minute substitute. His commanding work forcefully holds the center of attention even among the larger-than-life characters that surround him. And to not be overshadowed by Kamal Angelo Bolden’s colorful and hugely enjoyable Chad Deity is no small task. Mr. Bolden has played the role before and brings so much bravura and showy, cock-of-the-walk arrogance to the role, combined with precise comic timing, that he simply must be seen to be believed. Ramiz Monsef plays Vigneshwar Paduar, an equally confident but entirely inexperienced newcomer to the ring, as a hip-hop cartoon that finds his integrity under assault in the process of becoming a wrestling star almost against his will. It is fine work that establishes an equally broad but still contrasting presence to the champion. ATL veteran Lou Sumerall renders the wrestling scion Everett K. Olson in almost perfect terms, wheeling onto the stage in an over-size office chair. (Chad Deity is not the only one who knows how to make an entrance.) Local Ohio Valley Wrestling star Jamin Olivencia rounds out the cast, dutifully playing The Bad Guy in the ring with style, while other Apprentice Company members effectively deliver in small roles.
The design team delivers spectacular work, turning the Bingham Theatre into a full-on wrestling venue so convincingly that one could easily imagine the ATL management generating additional revenue renting it for that purpose at season’s end.
The lobby was buzzing with positive chatter after the show, and it seems clear to me that Chad Deity is one of those shows everyone will be talking about, making it the first “must-see” production of 2012. Of course, it is only January, but I believe the memory of this production will linger long after it has vacated the stage to make way for the Humana Festival.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
January 3 – February 4, 2012