Sunday, May 4, 2014

theatre review THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DIETY, Stray Cat Theatre, April 25

Charles Campbell, Pasha Yamotahari, Cisco Saavedra,
Jeremy Gillett and Keath David Hall
To read my complete review at Talkin' Broadway (highlights below) of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety, just click on this link.

Stray Cat Theatre is following up its recent knock-out production of The Whale with a play that couldn't be more different from that intimate and absorbing drama of one man's personal journey. Set inside the world of professional wrestling, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz, a 2010 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is part satire and part comedy, with a touch of drama. It's rough and loud with body slams, kicks, knock-outs, and booming rock music galore—and a full-size wrestling ring where the Tempe Performing Arts Center stage used to be. With five more than capable actors portraying larger than life personalities, the production shows us a world we may not all be familiar with, through situations that are immediately identifiable.

The play follows Macedonio "Mace" Guerra, the Puerto Rican fall-guy for the successful THE Wrestling League whose job is to continually lose to the other less skilled wrestlers in order to make them look better than they actually are. Mace is constantly biting his tongue at the inappropriate and uneducated racist remarks that "EKO" Olson, the owner of THE, makes and manages to hold his own against the charismatic Chad Deity, the champ. When Mace discovers "VP", an Indian-American Brooklyn kid with charisma who he thinks can make a great addition to THE and whom he could manage, he believes this is the way to rise above being just a supporting player in a world he loves. However, EKO has different plans, creating wrestling "characters" for both VP and Mace that paint them as anti-American villains, touching a bit too deeply on the stereotypes that professional wrestling relies on and the personal lives and experiences of both Mace and VP.

Diaz has created an interesting play with interesting characters. He uses the portrayal of stereotypes, both good and evil, to show us how we almost instantaneously identify, in a mostly negative way, people about whom we don't really know that much. This is something that can easily be seen in, not just the world of professional wrestling, but the world in general. But since Chad, the "hero" and champ of the league, is a black man, it seems he is also saying that we still have a lot to learn in the way that Hispanics, Indian Americans and other non-white people are portrayed and perceived. And while the play is entertaining and upbeat, and brings up some interesting points, it does suffer from too much narration from Mace, letting us know what he was thinking at a specific time or telling us about specific events. In fact, about one third of the play is Mace narrating and talking to the audience. The excess narration bogs things down a bit. The play also lacks a concise and comprehensive ending, or at least an ending that has a better conclusion for the characters we've just invested our time with. Though the ride to the ending is an upbeat and entertaining one and the play might be a little lacking, the characters Diaz create are fascinating.

Director Ron May has fortunately found five guys to bring these larger than life characters to life, all of whom easily come across as people you could actually see in a wrestling ring. Cisco Saavedra instils Mace with a sense of repressed struggle between the profession he loves and the constant battle against the negative words the people around him use and the stereotypical characters he is asked to play. Mace believes in the "art" of wrestling, something he's had a calling for since he was a kid. He understands that EKO is the boss so Mace needs to just keep his thoughts to himself, afraid that if he speaks what he is feeling it will cost him his job. Saavedra easily gets across Mace's struggle with subtle facial expressions and clenched teeth. Through Saavedra's performance we clearly see that Mace has seen too much and now has doubts.

Director May does an impressive job of getting his actors to show us the real people underneath the caricatures they play. He is also creative in the staging of the action, and there is a lot of it, along with using the entire theatre to stage the many "elaborate" entrances the wrestling characters make into the ring. Eric Beeck's inventive set design manages to surround the wrestling ring with two raised platforms and a series of steps that provide May with plenty of areas to create the various locations in the play. Daniel Chihuahua's costume designs are in line with the types of outfits the characters of professional wrestling wear, but also include some humorous ones for the crazy roles Mace and VP are forced to play. With the creative video projections and media design by Jesse Cabrera, Jeff A. Davis' rock star style lighting, Joey Trahan's clear and loud sound design, and that full-size wrestling ring, you feel many times as if you are at an actual wrestling match.  

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is thought provoking, entertaining and full of heart. It has a keen sense of showing us inside the world of professional wrestling, with its own version of theatricality and "characters" that are the backbone of the profession and the fans who love it. The Stray Cat production has a fine, game cast, assured direction and manages to be raucous entertainment even if Diaz doesn't quite find a way to fully wrap up the serious issues of stereotypes he brings up.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at the Stray Cat Theatre runs through May 17th, 2014 with performances at the Tempe Performing Arts Center, 132 E. 6th Street in Tempe. Tickets can be ordered by calling 480 227-1766 or at

Photo: John Groseclose

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