The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity presents a night of many head to head fights, but not all of them are physical. In a play that concerns the professional wrestling world, playwright Kristoffer Diaz deftly uses the ring as an arena to battle between opposing ideologies: art versus capitalism, racism versus progressiveness, and duty to self versus duty to culture. The entire time reminding us that, like in wrestling, the winner of these battles only wins because the “loser” allows it.
The play centers not on the title character, but on Mace. He has grown up idolizing professional wrestling and devoted his life to making the theatrical event occur. Except instead of landing as the hero, he has been pegged as the fall guy- the guy destined to lose every match. To succumb to the winner, whether he is physically or mentally, is immaterial. And this plays out in his matches as well as his monologues repining his role.
Seeing a show the first weekend is always a risk, sometimes it pays off and that burst of a new audience propels the actors into newfound territory, and sometimes you see a show that could have used another week of rehearsals. This production fell into the latter. Plagued by a lead character who couldn’t remember his lines, the show struggled to find its momentum.
Although Christian Gonzalez as Mace was infectiously charming and constantly made me care about him, there were too many flubbed lines and missed moments to honestly follow the character’s emotional arc. This is a real shame because what was there was quite good. Gonzalez has a knack for passionately believing what he’s saying and by extension making us cheer for him. I truly believe as the show’s run proceeds, he will only improve.
Chad Deity himself, played by Tim German, served his purpose well enough; he was all flash and smiles, which don’t get me wrong is absolutely in service of the script and the character, BUT there were multiple missed moments of vulnerability that would have seen German take Deity from a superfluous extravagant character, into a fully realized dynamic individual.
The rest of the ensemble – Jehan Sterling Silva as V.P., Jason Hentrich as E.K.O., Fred Fletcher–Jackson as various wrestlers, and Matthew Casella as the Referee – all performed effectively. Jehan is also responsible for the projections on the back wall marking the elaborate entrances of each character. Costuming by Helenmary Ball is also commendable- the flash, the glitz, and all including spandex. The entire ensemble gets a huge shout out for handling intense fight choreography (choreographed by Jonathan Ezra Rubin and training with Joseph Grasso) with near perfect precision.
The director, Daniel Douek, was probably the biggest let down of the night. The world of the play was not created in the least. Professional wrestling has a pageantry and over-the-top nature that this production lacked. The name of the play is “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” but the longest entrance of the show was under twenty seconds. (Editor’s Note: In defense of the reviewer, they are a RuPaul Drag Race fan and expect majorly elaborate pageantry) The script is not want for searing political commentary or dynamic character development, however this particular production by Cohesion Theatre Company is unfortunately lacking in both. It comes across and flashy and fake, which wrestling is. And although it might be seen a commentary on the façade of “reality television,” it instead sort of plagued itself by reminding the audience that this, too, is not real.
I would, however, be remiss not to mention that the staging of the production was quite innovative and compelling. Douek’s use of the full space as well as the implementation of the corners of the ring to parallel plot points was quite nice. Cohesion is known for doing the insane. The off-beat wacky plays other theater companies won’t take the risk on- and it shows. This play, with an actual wrestling ring (credit Renaissance Rumble) is a risk. And it is the type of play that is interesting and different, but not everyone’s cup of tea.
Should I Stay or Should I Go? The script, just named by the New York Times as one of the 25 best plays written since Angels in America, is incredibly faceted and compelling. The production however fails to reach it’s full potential. All in all, and much like pro-wrestling, the show succeeds in spite of some of its flaws and is definitely worth the price of admission. (B)
Running through June 17th. Running time 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.