Chad Deity Highlights The Dark World Behind The Scenes Of Pro-Wrestling
Playing now at The Firehouse Theatre Project is a play the likes of which most theater fans have never seen before. Seeing paintings of Andre The Giant and Hulk Hogan on the lobby wall might be your first hint. Finding colorful and enthusiastic poster signs to hold up in the audience’s seat makes it a little more obvious. But discovering a stage replaced with a wrestling ring is definitely going to hammer home that this is not your usual play.
“The Elaborate Entrance Of Chad Deity” is anything but typical, but its unique setting and distinctive performance has made it a hit across the nation and Richmond’s production is no exception.
Kristoffer Diaz’s 2009 play has definitely resonated strongly in audiences as well as critics considering this was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize Award for Drama in 2010. For people outside what is called “the wrestling bubble,” how impressive this play is as well as all the awards and accolades it has racked up might be surprising, but it really shouldn’t be. Shortly before “Chad Diety” debuted, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler had the film press absolutely floored leading to multiple wins and nominations for the motion picture. Long before that though, the documentaries Beyond The Mat and Wrestling With Shadows were receiving extremely strong critical acclaim in the late 90s for exposing a world that would shock most people even today. Indeed, the wrestling world is an intricate one full of colorful characters, ridiculous conflicts, and controversial moments and I am not talking at all about what fans see on their television screens on a weekly basis.
While the backstage domain of professional wrestling has had a lot of light shed on it mostly due in part to the advent of the internet (and the infamous “internet wrestling community“), much of wrestling is still a mystery making any production about it one that seems absolutely ground-breaking and “Chad Deity” is exactly that: ground-breaking. The amazing script reveals multiple sides of wrestling that has never truly been tackled before such as racism and stereotypes as well as highlighting flaws within our very own society such as the corruption of the fabled “American Dream” for the business world.
In “Chad Deity,” our protagonist is Macedonia “Mace” Guerra (Axle Burtness), a Puerto Rican lifelong wrestling fan who wrestles for the fictitious T.H.E. wrestling promotion. Macedonia is impressive in the ring, but does not have the correct look (or perhaps ethnicity) to become a top star in the company. Instead, promoter “EKO” Everett K. Olson (Nicklas Aliff) relegates Mace to be a “jobber to the stars,” the enhancement talent whose job it is to make the talentless top stars look like the best wrestlers in the world. The star that Mace is referring to here is the face of T.H.E. and World Champion, Chad Deity (Josh Marin), an almost duplicate version of wrestling’s biggest superstars from Hulk Hogan to John Cena. Big physique, winning smile, and so much charisma that Diety himself boasts, “charisma owes Chad Deity money;” all this and more make for an extremely marketable star that is widely popular, despite his obvious shortcomings in the ring.
The story picks up steam when Mace discovers Vigneshwar “VP” Paduar (Mauricio Marcés), an Indian American youth from Brooklyn with charisma that rivals Chad Deity and a speaking ability that Mace believes could propel his career out of wrestling purgatory. EKO has other plans though including an offensive and widely inaccurate stereotype for VP as “The Fundamentalist” as well as a role swap that seemingly leaves Mace in the same position he was before. It’s here where the dirty side of wrestling really comes out to play and while it’s mostly focused on the offensive and racist stereotypes, there are plenty of other themes at play such as those in charge being out of touch with their audience.
The play is a five star classic in every way mostly due to the combined efforts of everyone involved. Director Kerry McGee seems to have taken every detail into account while shaping this production and it pays off immensely for the audience. The original music from Joey Luck, video packages from Benjamin Burke, and costumes from Starr Foster come dangerously close to outshining most independent wrestling promotions today and transforms the Firehouse from an intimate theater to a true showcase of the squared circle. McGee’s attention to detail definitely rubbed off on her actor’s too as they play their characters with extreme conviction. Marcés pulls off VP’s confidence amazingly when he’s first introduced, but delivers his character’s frustration and confusion even better later on. Marin’s portrayal of Chad Deity is the perfect send-up to wrestling’s biggest stars with charisma on the level of The Rock and the tremendous ability to pull off even the craziest, Ultimate Warrior inspired promo (whether it’s raisin brain or crispers). Aliff is nearly flawless in his depiction of EKO and while he never attempted the Vince McMahon strut, he pulled off the manic fervor of McMahon’s voice (as seen in Beyond The Mat) absolutely perfectly.
James Long, the only actual professional wrestler involved in this production, reprises his three-part role as The Bad Guy, Billy Heartland, and Old Glory for the fourth time. The Richmond Lucha original and current Ohio Valley Wrestling star (as Paredyse) may only have a few lines in the play (most of which are trash talking as he walks to the ring), but he pulls the lines and his role off with such outlandish and overdramatic effect that he pretty much stole the spotlight of each scene he was in. Despite a stacked cast of incredible actors though, Axle Burtness as Mace is definitely the highlight of this production. His frenzied approach to Mace’s monologues really speak to the wrestling fan in Mace’s heart; that fan that just wants to see wrestling as the art it is as opposed to the exploitation it often becomes. The way he delivers frustration and bewilderment can appeal to nearly anyone who’s ever been passed up for a promotion or was turned down from a job. His dedication to the role of the underdog comes off with every movement and his performance is what really makes this play must-see.
For non-wrestling fans, the humor of the dialogue and the crooked nature of the story will appeal to anyone. The script doesn’t dumb down wrestling for those who’ve never watched, but it doesn’t waste time explaining too many wrestling concepts and terms except ones that are truly integral to the plot. To ease the worry of wrestling fans reading, the legacy of the squared circle is protected extremely well here. Even at the most outlandish moments, Mace’s monologue lets the audience know that wrestling isn’t always this way and doesn’t have to be at all. Mace’s handling of dismissing wrestling as “predetermined” would make any wrestling fan proud too and the fact that the word “fake” is not used to describe wrestling in any sense in the whole two hours is a feat, in and of itself.
The Firehouse’s adaptation of “The Elaborate Entrance Of Chad Deity” is truly a can’t-miss production for anyone who appreciates good stories, great characters, and amazing acting. The respect at which the Kerry McGee’s team gives wrestling really lends itself to focus more on the story and the characters at the core of “Chad Deity,” making it a relevant story to anyone from any background. For Richmond, a city with a rich wrestling history and a city that is as overlooked as Mace himself, “Chad Deity” is right at home and should be the hottest ticket in town.
photo credit by Andrew Bonniwell
This will be the first time his production will premiere in Richmond.January 31, 2017
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