From the fixed fights to the obviously fake body slams and clotheslines, most everything about Stages Repertory Theater’s upcoming bone-crushing play The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is make-believe. The takes on race, commerce and the American Dream, however, aren’t. The muscular, high-energy, visceral whirlwind of a comedy, which opens this Wednesday, may prop itself up on the world of pro wrestling’s veneer of violence, but the nostalgia and messages are definitely real.
As a kid on Saturday mornings, Josh Morrison would settle in front of the TV and watch cartoon versions of Hulk Hogan and André the Giant hash it out on the mat in Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling. He was just a kid during the golden age of wrestling, when the Von Erichs, a famous wrestling family from Dallas, had an internationally syndicated television show and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was still the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).
“Wrestling was a part of our family,” he says. So when there was an opportunity to direct Deity. “It was like a dream come true.”
For Morrison the spectacle sport and theater are a perfect fit. Wrestling uses theatrical techniques like lighting, costuming and sound to shape villains, heroes and story arcs. In Deity, the two worlds meet in an ugly, unsavory way. Wrestling pigeonholes its performers into stereotypical roles. Morrison points out that, oftentimes, those roles hew along racial lines and promote harmful stereotypes.
The same is true for theater. In part, Chad Deity is playwright Kristoffer Diaz’s reaction to the scarcity of leading roles for actors of color. “The play is a huge metaphor in so many different ways,” he says.
Not to worry, Chad Deity‘s characters add some play to all the metaphorical work the play is doing. Vigneshwar Paduar (VP) is a tough, multi-lingual ladies man and streetball player. “He’s not only a phenomenal player, but he has a phenomenal mouth,” adds Diaz. Chad Deity is the good-looking good-guy in the wrestling ring, but also a dimwitted, subpar wrestler. He’s trying to step out of the shadow of the ring’s champ, Mace, whom Chad has been propping up as the hero for years.
Stages’ has partnered with Doomsday Wrestling and Horse Head Theatre Co. to provide a near-close authentic peek at professional wrestling. Horse Head has curated an exhibit of wrestling items for the lobby and before the play and during intermission, vendors will walk the aisle offering beer and popcorn. In addition to the matches onstage, there are live wrestling matches 30 minutes before each performance and during intermission courtesy of Doomsday Wrestling. To top it all off, a 14' professional ring rests on the main stage.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is an invigorating and embattled comedy, layered by social messages, hidden under a thick mat of sweat and wonderfully choreographed wrestling moves. Its satire is palpable, its action is mostly fake, and its message runs perennial with American dreams.
Oct 14–Nov 8. $19-54. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy. 713-527-0123. stagestheatre.com