A culturally explosive knockout is in the ring as Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company launches its 33rd seasion: My Root, My Revolution with the Pulitzer Prize Finalist play The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. Written by Kristoffer Diaz and directed by John Vreeke, this power-balling, drop-kicking main event show takes place against the lights and sounds of the show-stopping arena that is professional wrestling. Following the story of Mace, the underdog fighter fall-guy for the charismatic figure head Chad Deity, a world of cultural revolutions is revealed as the protagonist explores his history, his heritage and how it has all culminated to his life and profession in the present. It’s a heart-stopping, action packed, raw and gritty story that will take you through a world of change by the time it’s finished.
The perfect trio of designers come together to make this elaborate sensation possible. Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills teams up with Sound Designer Christopher Baine to explore the grandiose entrances of the wrestlers as well as recreating the ring-side atmosphere of a pro-wrestling match. Bills and Baine are able to make a reality of this tension wound atmosphere, laced with excitement and the thrill of a live cage match; blaring sounds with a thumping base and blinding lights with so many colors that you can’t pick them all out. Add to these spectacular spectacles the images of Projection Designer Jared Mezzocchi and the audience finds themselves submersed in the reality that is wrestling, forgetting for a moment that they’re seeing a play about wrestling and not the actual thing. Bills, Baine, and Mezzocchi bring a riveting reality to their designs, taking every audience member from the edge of their seats to the edge of the ring, standing there with Mace and Chad Deity as it all goes down.
Playwright Kristoffer Diaz uses the venue of Professional Wrestling to convey a familiar concept of self discovery. Diaz’s work is a revolutionary idea – taking a coming of age type lesson and applying it to a fully grown adult who is then able to actualize the identities of his cultural backgrounds through the societal breakdown of culture that is happening around him in his profession. Diaz completely changes the way Professional Wrestling is viewed with a poignant breakdown of what it is, and how it is a uniquely profound artistic expression of passion for the craft. In a sense it becomes no different than the play that you’re seeing.
Diaz utilizes strong cultural stereotypes throughout the work, imploring the use of dark and offensive humor in regards to these stereotypes that invite you to laugh if you dare. Bad taste humor fuels a good deal of the second half but not without just cause and proper placement. Diaz’s characters are crafted to be like the action figures he describes, not just molded hunks of plastic, but real moving dolls with many points of articulation. His story is an awestruck epic that pushes the envelope by way of cultural identification and being true to one’s self.
Real life Professional Wrestler James Long makes his theatrical debut in this production and adds an element of both comedy and physical exertion that keep the play on its toes. Stepping in as the multi-purpose wrestling opponent in various ridiculous costumes, Long gives the other characters a chance to flex their moves in the ring, showing the key importance of having a fall guy in a pre-composed match.
The other characters, each representing a cultural background in this pivotal comedy, are carved into their stereotype with perfection. EKO (Michael Russotto) is the pompous arrogant successful white man who created “The Wrestling” – the syndicate with the most popular matches on television. Russotto adapts the personality of the wealthy CEO figure calling the shots with an intimidating sense of know-how and a crass edge that makes him appear racist. His booming voice does the job of ring announcer and it quiets to a sharp grating whisper when addressing his actors out of the ring, a villainous trait if ever there was one.
VP (Adi Hanash) is presented as an Indian character, referred to among other things as the brown guy. First portrayed by Hanash as the smooth-talking, city-slick, girl-getting street rapper, he then appears to the pro-wrestling circuit as The Fundamentalist, a racist stereotype caricature of everything EKO thinks America believes about the middle east. Hanash’s presence on stage is masterful and engaging, especially when in the ring. And when his character experiences that turning point, his presentation of the character’s growth is stunning.
America’s wrestling super-hero is embodied in the glorious Chad Deity (Shawn T. Andrew). Ripped flexible muscles with self-playing bongo pecks – he is the epitome of egotistical beauty wrapped up in the body of a wrestler. Andrew hams it up in front of the camera, holding his arms like machine guns in his elaborate entrance and other high-class shenanigans that make the ladies swoon and the men go ape when he steps into the ring. Andrew pulls poses of a wrestling god with his winning smile and charismatic nature. His challenge is well met as he goes from this adored public figure to the basically mellow and somewhat clueless man backstage, until his own personal rages are sparked. Andrew is a phenomenal figurehead for the play; looking great, saying little, and overall leaving you with a sense of star-struck when you look at him.
Like Julius Caesar, the play isn’t really about Chad Deity, but rather about the scrappy little underdog Macedonia Guerra, better known as Mace (Josè Joaquin Pèrez). While he’s the fall-guy, Pèrez is also the narrator of the story, and not just in the sense that it’s his story to tell, but he literally pauses the action on stage like a DVD with director’s commentary and starts reflecting on what’s happening, addressing the audience directly at times, even going so far as to get them involved. Pèrez’s narrations are ingenious and he works the script that Diaz has provided giving it every justice and truth that it deserves. He’s funny, uproarious with his commentary and lives raw and real in each moment that he rejoins the scene. His character explodes from within the preconceived notion he’s been painted into and erupts with self-discovery the way that makes this a truly satisfying production to watch. Pèrez’s performance is brilliance beyond a shadow of a doubt and every emotion radiates forth from within the depths of his very soul.
So run and get a ring side seat, because Woolly Mammoth’s Chad Deity is definitely a knockout!
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity plays through September 30, 2012 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company – 641 D Street NW, in Washington DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 393-3939, or purchase them online.