BWW Reviews: Talented Cast Shines in Woolly Mammoth's THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY
The theme of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's 2012-2013 season is "My Roots, My Revolution." Kristoffer Diaz's The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2010) fits this theme well. The cast tasked with bringing it to life, under the direction of Woolly Company Member John Vreeke, largely succeeds in highlighting the strongest aspects of the monologue-heavy script, which focuses, oddly enough, on the world of professional wrestling.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity first premiered at Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago and later received an Off-Broadway production at Second Stage Theatre and an Obie Award for Best New American Play (2011). We first meet Mace (short for Macedonio Guerra), a long-time fan of the "art" of professional wrestling since childhood, who has realized his dream of being a professional wrestler. He's committed to his craft and has worked steadily for THE Wrestling though never achieving super fame. Mace is the little guy that's required to- in the highly scripted world of wrestling- make superstars like Chad Deity, not known for their athleticism but their showmanship, look great. As he comes to grips with his place in the wrestling community and the larger world, he examines how his own Latin ethnic identity and modest New York City roots have shaped who he has become as a person and a professional. At the same time, E.K.O. (the overseer of THE Wrestling) uses ugly cultural stereotypes to catapult the African American Chad Deity and newcomer VP (a man of Indian heritage, but forced to portray a Middle Eastern Islamic fundamentalist) to superstardom.
To this end, Diaz's story combines body slamming wrestling moves (mostly seen in Act II) and long sociology-infused monologues about ethnic identity. The heavy reliance on monologues, particularly in Act I, hinders Diaz in conveying the interesting and novel story. Mace's Act I monologues, much to the chagrin of this audience member, are repetitive and designed to repeatedly hit audience members over the head with single ideas that are derived from sound sociological theories, but presented in a simplistic way. Though the narrative sidebars are still present in Act II, Diaz is much more effective in letting the actual story be the focus. It would be more compelling and productive if Diaz allowed Mace to tell the audience where he came from in the first few minutes of the play and then, from there on out, trusted the audience to identify the social message in the action rather than mostly relying on Mace's narration to explain the situation at hand and what the takeaway message should be. Mace has compelling insight on his situation at times, but there is simply too much of it.
José Joaquín Pérez (Mace) has the most daunting challenge as he is onstage nearly the entire play and is either explaining a situation to the audience, engaging in wrestling moves, or involved in intense dialogue with his nemeses "backstage" at wrestling venues. Pérez gives an energetic and committed performance and his charm is infectious. He makes the best of the long monologues he's been given to deliver and seems to have a solid understanding of what makes his character tick.
The flashier characters in the script also work thanks to the fine acting talent of Michael Russotto (E.K.O.), Shawn T. Andrew (Chad Deity), Adi Hanash (VP), and James Long (a professional wrestler making his theatrical debut as several of VP's opponents). Russotto manages to portray the domineering and slick master of THE Wrestling with both charm and authority. Andrew excels with the comedic one-liners Chad Deity spouts throughout the play and has perfected the cocky attitude necessary to play this superstar. Hanash demonstrates considerable range as he transforms from an eager and confidence athlete to someone whose wrestling is more about uncomfortable theatrics and less about sport. Long (who also serves as Assistant Fight Choreographer) explodes in his Act II scenes as a professional wrestler adhering to a script of who wins and who loses, but also executing precise moves.
As a director, Vreeke is hugely successful in transporting the audience to the alternate universe of professional wrestling with support from some talented designers. Misha Kachman (Set/Costume Designer) and Ivania Stack (Costume Designer) offer delightfully stunning contributions to the production. Certainly, the large wrestling ring (which is lowered from Woolly's season at the beginning of Act II), is a necessary ingredient, but the detailed and intricate costumes also provide insight into the characters being portrayed and are highly appropriate for their outlandish world. Jared Mezzocchi's projections bring audience members into the moment and make them feel like they are witnessing wrestling matches. Joe Isenberg's fight choreography is also realistic and hugely important for the success of Act II's fight scenes. Colin K. Bills' lighting design and Christopher Baine's sound design are suitably flashy and intense and add a necessary ambiance.
I'd recommend this production. Though the script has some deficiencies that even the talented cast and director can't overcome, Diaz's creation does have a lot of heart and he deserves kudos for originality. Woolly starts its season strong with this show.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity plays at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company- 641 D St, NW in Washington, DC- through September 30, 2012. For tickets, call 202-393-3939 or purchase them online. Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes including an intermission.
Pictured: Shawn T. Andrew and James Long (photo by Stan Barouh).