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BWW Review: CHAD DEITY Is A Body Slam

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

Written by Kristoffer Diaz, Directed by Shawn LaCount; Set and Props Designer, Jason Ries; Lighting Designer, Jen Rock; Sound Designer, Arshan Gailus; Costume Designer, Kendra Bell; Video Designer, Olivia Sebesky; Dramaturg, Jessie Baxter; Stage Manager, Joseph Thomas; Assistant Stage Manager, Molly Burman; Wrestling Consultant and Trainer, Brian Phillips

CAST: Ricardo Engermann, Peter Brown, Chris Leon, Jake Athyal, Mike Webb

Performances through August 25 by Company One at Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.CompanyOne.org

At first glance, it may seem that professional wrestling and the hoi polloi who are magnetically drawn to it have nothing in common with the legitimate theater and those patrons of the arts who populate its audiences. However, in The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, playwright Kristoffer Diaz's loving portrait of the sport cum reality entertainment, the curtain is pulled back to reveal how the wrestling sausage is made, so to speak, and one cannot help but notice the theatricality of it all. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that wrestling is the ultimate SHOW BIZ!

Director Shawn LaCount and the team of Company One designers (Set and Props by Jason Ries, Video by Olivia Sebesky) evocatively convert the Roberts Studio Theatre into a wrestling arena, complete with a regulation ring surrounded by fans seated on three sides and, flanking the rear wall, jumbo video screens that flash announcements and promote the upcoming events. Lighting Designer Jen Rock employs rotating colored spotlights to shine down on the ring and sweep the stands, while Sound Designer Arshan Gailus supplies recorded crowd noise to add to the verisimilitude. The sometimes outlandish garb of the quartet of wrestlers is designed by Kendra Bell and fittingly defines their personae in the ring.

The actors thrust into the midst of this playground (and frequently slammed to the mat) are critical to the desired result of virtually transporting the audience from arts center to arena, and to the willing suspension of disbelief that is vital to making this play work as an immersion experience. Ricardo Engermann's Macedonia Guerra (ring moniker Mace) is part narrator, part guide to the ins and outs of the professional wrestling industry. As one who became enamored of the toy action figures and televised matches as a young boy, Mace believes that he has his dream job and is the ideal ambassador to initiate the uninitiated. He is a natural raconteur and views the storytelling aspect as arguably the most beautiful and important facet of the business.

Mace is what's known as a jobber, whose role it is to lose to the more charismatic wrestlers and make them look good. At "THE Wrestling," Chad Deity is the designated champion and good guy for the audience to love. In the title role, the incredibly buff Chris Leon struts around the ring like Muhammad Ali, gesticulating to stir up the crowd and alternating muscular poses with pec bounces, drawing hoots and hollers. The give and take between the actors and the audience is key to the authenticity of this evening in the theater masquerading as a faux sporting event. On a number of occasions during the action, individuals in the stands shouted encouragement or unintelligible remarks to one of the actor-wrestlers, and everybody seemed to buy into the idea that we were supposed to cheer for the good guys and boo the bad guys.

Good or bad is simplistically defined by "THE Wrestling" chief executive Everett K. Olson (Peter Brown) or EKO, for short. When Mace recruits a neighborhood basketball wunderkind from Brooklyn by the name of Vigneshwar Paduar (Jake Athyal), it doesn't take long for the greedy wheels to start turning in EKO's head. Never mind that Paduar is an American of Indian descent because Olson taps into the masses' fear and loathing of foreigners and terrorists to set him up as the African-American Deity's latest villainous opponent, proclaiming "What wrestling needs right now is a Muslim Fundamentalist!" In a bizarre illustration of racial stereotyping, Olson casts the Puerto Rican Mace as a Mexican terrorist to act as Paduar's manager and mouthpiece. However, Olson is crazy like a fox and his ideas are highly successful and lucrative, even as he appeals to the base instincts of his audience.

As a build up to his pay-per-view faceoff with Deity, Paduar makes quick work of The Bad Guy, Billy Heartland, and Old Glory (all played by strong and silent Mike Webb) with his signature move the Superkick (dubbed "sleeper cell" by EKO), before using his newfound celebrity to launch into a rant against all the things he hates about America, including Chad Deity. Somewhere along the way, Paduar wakes up to the facts surrounding his situation and the way that EKO has forced him to suppress his own identity for the sake of the act. For his part, Mace must choose whether to follow his friend's example or continue to turn a blind eye to the distasteful characteristics of the sport he loves.

Engermann puts his body and soul into his portrayal of Mace and comes across as a regular guy in an irregular arena of charismatic men who favor style over substance. We feel safe in his hands when the going gets rough in the ring, reassured that it really is all for show, and that no one can kick another guy's ass without that guy's help and consent. He works seamlessly with Leon when the two are paired in a match that finishes with Deity's patented Powerbomb move, giving clear evidence of just how hard the actors trained with Wrestling Consultant Brian Phillips from the New England Pro Wrestling Academy. Athyal exudes innate intelligence as well as street smarts as the shrewd Paduar who turns out to be a quick study at the wrestling game. As the only non-fighter in the five-man cast, Brown convincingly makes Olson stand out for his shameless lack of ethics and his total commitment to the art of the con.

To assay to write a satire about the world of professional wrestling seems at first redundant because the characters and stories it presents are themselves over the top. However, Diaz is a fan and found a way to interweave a focus on race and class that gives the whole spectacle a different perspective. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity won Diaz the Obie for Best New American Play in 2011 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2010. Director LaCount and the compelling Company One production can only add to the legend.

 

Photo credit: Liza Voll Photography (Chris Leon and Ricardo Engermann)    

 

          

 

 



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