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A review of Red Theater Chicago’s ‘The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity’

Red Theater

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is nothing if not a topical play; both in the wrestling world and the world outside the squared circle. Set against the backdrop of the wrestling’s jingoistic tendencies and the promotors consistent lack of faith in intelligent audiences, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity explores what it’s like to be a young, idealistic performer of color working for a mass media machine.

Red Theater’s production is raw, hard hitting (literally) and walks a fine line between the absurdity of these tendencies and the absolute horror that they persist. The stage is a literal wrestling ring and the audience is encouraged to participate before the lights go up and the first bell rings. Cleverly this sets the stage for a weak fourth wall as much of the play is narrated by Macedonia Guerra or “Mace”, jobber to the stars.

Alejandro Tey plays Mace with a genuine underdog spirit. Mace knows how horrible wrestling can be, especially for a skinny performer of color (he even encourages the audience to google Muhammad Hassan when they leave!), but he also believes in how incredibly transforming good wrestling can be. He doesn’t mind making the other guys look good, he just needs to tell one true story before he’s done.

This underdog spirit is constantly challenged when faced with EKO, the promoter of THE Wrestling company (see what they did there…) and his simplistic view of wrestling. Big guys make money. Little guys help the big guys make money. Big guys get elaborate entrances. Little guys are “already in the ring”. Mickey O’Sullivan plays EKO disgustingly well. It’s like if Vince McMahon had sex with a 1950’s casting director and they had a baby who only survived on cocaine, misery and money. He puts on a performance appropriately full of crotch grabs, wild gestures, and absolute scumminess.

Chad Deity played by Semaj Miller is a constant reminder to Mace that not only will he never be Chad Deity, but that Chad Deity would be nothing without Mace to make him look good. Except Chad gets all the money (because somehow, we exist in a world where you make more money if you win a PREDETERMINED fight).

Semaj Miller, Alejandro Tey in The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Red Theater

Miller’s over the top performance as a John Cena meets Ric Flair meets The Rock top guy while entertaining, falls a little flat. There is a certain amount of believing your own bull that needs to accompany an elaborate entrance and a silly finisher that does not come through right away. However, as the play progresses and we delve deeper into Deity’s psyche, Miller brings a dark edge to the character that solidifies the performance. In true wrestling fashion, he gets more over the more he leans into his heel persona.

Mace, attempting to find his one true story, meets a smooth talking, rapping Indian hot shot playing basketball in Brooklyn. VP, played by Priyank Thakkar, is presented as a man that could sell Cena merch to a smark and Thakkar’s performance makes you believe it. Mace brings VP into THE Wrestling to be his manager, but unfortunately his plans quickly go sideways as EKO only sees two men with brown skin and “he knows how to sell that”. He repackages VP in the stereotypical middle eastern heel persona known as “The Fundamentalist” complete with an offensive finisher (the superkick is now the ominous “Sleeper Cell”) and Mace as a Mexican communist Guerrilla fighter known as Che Chavez Castro.

Interestingly, Chad Deity is a black man which reinforces the stereotype that black men can be powerful, but only if they are athletes entertaining America. Mace at one point even says something to the effect of “EKO doesn’t see Deity as black because he makes him so much money”. Having the star of THE Wrestling be a black man juxtaposed against a Puerto Rican character and an Indian character who are consistently mistreated also brings into question society’s idea of what is racist and “PC”. In the play EKO gets called out for making a KKK reference, but blatantly confuses several Middle Eastern countries and thinks that Mexico has nothing to do with the history of wrestling. Cleverly highlighting a problem that the entertainment industry is still struggling with.

While Mace and VP try and breath truth into their offensively stereotypical heel personas they are not only met with bigoted crowds, but with constant reminders that their purpose is to make the star, Chad Deity, look good. The more despicable and the more hated they are the more the audience roots for Chad. The more the crowd boos, the more they question whether they are helping to enforce these steroptypes or if their desire for social commentary is breaking through to the audience. Mace must confront himself and the things he’s willing to do to belong in the wrestling world he loves so much.

What was especially enjoyable about this production was how much actual wrestling there was!

Will Snyder in The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Red Theater

Will Snyder, a former indie wrestler himself, plays several different characters throughout the play and helps to create the feeling of being at a real wrestling show. Playing characters indicative of Sgt. Slaughter, the Bushwackers, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan he put on some pretty solid matches with the other actors. Especially impressive was Tey’s skills in the ring considering he never wrestling before (though he had circus training). Rounding out the cast was the farcical but ever enjoyable brown nosing referee played by Dave Honigman.

While I whole heartedly disagree with the dramaturgical statement that “Professional Wrestling is not for everybody”, I can say that everybody can find something to root for in Red Theater Chicago’s rendition of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. With poignant social commentary, layered performances and some pretty fun wrestling to boot it’s the perfect play for non-wrestling and wrestling fans alike.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Red Theater Chicago’s production of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity runs through Sept. 16 at Strawdog Theatre.

Directed by Jeremy Aluma for tickets

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