Aurora theatergoers will have ringside seats to see the Bay Area premiere of Kristoffer Diaz’s vibrant and dynamic 2010 play, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, titularly about wrestling, but actually a comic drama examining racial politics in the U.S. and larger questions of good and evil. Don’t be turned off to this production if you’re not a fan of wrestling.
The play centers on a fictional professional wrestling monopoly, THE Wrestling, in which the owner, “EKO” (well played by Rod Gnapp) manipulates his wrestlers, choosing the all-American types, such as the swaggering African-American champion, Chad Deity (the handsome Beethovan Oden) to be the winners and the ethnic minorities, such as the Puerto Rican “Mace” to be the losers.
Wrestling fans love the overblown capitalist Chad Deity. He’s an American. He throws money at his audience. Although he can hardly wrestle, competitors such as Mace do all the heavy lifting (pun intentional) in order to make Deity look good in the ring.
Tony Sancho is exceptional as Mace, playing the underdog wrestler with effervescent energy and captivating appeal. Whether he’s addressing the audience or speaking to the other actors, his Mace is the lover of the art of wrestling, willing to overlook the phoniness and crassness of the sport simply to keep participating.
“VP,” a hip-hop Indian-American from Brooklyn (nicely done by Nasser Khan) joins THE Wrestling at Mace’s suggestion. EKO insists that VP portray himself as “The Fundamentalist,” wear a cockamamie costume designed to look vaguely middle-eastern, and glare and stare at the audience and his opponents. Although VP is useful to the playwright for his expression of the play’s thesis, his role is a bit heavy-handed. One could almost imagine that his part could be eliminated without affecting the thrust of the play, despite his welcome serio-comic personality.
Playwright Kristoffer Diaz’s script is expressive and communicative. Aside from one or two long monologues, he keeps the play moving, both as a satire and as a racial commentary. It’s not a surprise that The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity was short-listed for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize and won an Obie Award for Best New American Play.
The Aurora Theatre’s stage is dominated by a wrestling ring, with none of the 150 theatre patrons sitting further than 15 feet away from the performance. With some actual wrestling techniques, multi-media effects, strobe lights, smoke and even a wrestler (Dave Maier) to warm up the crowd, the show is exciting. The direction by Jon Tracy, the staged fight scenes, sets and lighting are first-rate. They help make The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity come alive.
By the way, several times during the performance, Mace suggests that the audience learn about the wrestler, Muhammad Hassan. Here’s some information on him.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity runs through September 30 at the Aurora Theatre in downtown Berkeley. For information and tickets, visit the Aurora Theatre.
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