Chad Deity Talks the Talk

The circus is coming to town. It’ called The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity and the venue is the Hippodrome. That’s what makes it special.

The script by Kristofer Diaz is vying for entrance into the American canon, little more than a decade after its Victory Gardens world premiere at Chicago’s Biograph Theater, appropriately, where gangster John Dillinger was gunned down in the Roaring Twenties by the FBI, a celebrity villain.

Here comes a play about heroes and villains, but which is which entirely depends on your point of view, that of the exploiter or the exploited. Professional wrestling is just the means by which market forces turn the athlete-performers into harmful commodities that consume themselves in consumption. You can now watch it unfold with an understanding of the process you won’t get from World Wrestling Entertainment.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and it bespeaks the death match our culture has entered for fun and profit. It’s all about pro wrestling – if you can believe it. And if you can’t, even better.

Pro wrestling wants you to believe in something that’s not what it seems. A play about pro wrestling is just the opposite and plays on your knowledge that things are not what they seem. You know pro wrestling is scripted, so, here’s a script about the script, a play within the play about a script that goes off-script.

It’s Shakespearean. It’s operatic. It’s like Greek tragedy. It’s Pro Wrasslin!

Alberto Bonilla is directing the play with verve, style, and panache, and openly confesses his long thralldom with pro wrestling, reminiscing about magical WrestleMania moments in his boyhood. But this is a play with adult themes and language, as you know if you’ve ever been to a WWE event – it’s not exactly G-rated, and not only that, it’s got depth.

“I was hooked. I loved it. Those guys were my heroes. That was when I was twelve. I still love it. But now, with this play, there’s an awareness. For everything you see, there’s something behind it you don’t see. There’s a reason for everything that happens that you don’t know about.”

But there’s no artifice about the action in the ring. “The wrestling is real. They’re not just executing a move here and there. They’re really wrestling. I’ve been a fight choreographer. I’ve worked on sets with guns, but I’ve never been more nervous than watching these guys.”

In order to simulate the violence that Greek theater strictly prohibited requires all the skill and aggression of the Roman gladiator combined with broad acting chops of commedia dell’arte, not to mention teamwork of the highest order.

While the wrestling ring dominates the set, the house becomes the arena.

What you see will be a multimedia extravaganza. “And we’ll maybe bump it up a little,” Alberto adds, “with a little pyro. And don’t be surprised if the action breaks out into the lobby.”

That’s how The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity nearly won the Pulitzer and why it has played the regional theater circuit for a decade. Now it’s finally arrived in Hogtown, and it should be worth the wait – not only because the ensemble Bonilla has assembled is top-notch, but because the Hipp stage offers this play something unique – and the audience will not only be the beneficiary, they’ll feel like they’re in it.

The next step on the aesthetic appreciation ladder is to get it.

Chad Deity is satire. You won’t get exactly the same thrill you would going to a WWE event; you’ll get a better one, the thrill only art can deliver; the Greeks called it catharsis. It comes after the shock of recognition.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is a mirror that allows us to see not just wrestling fans but the whole world of consumers for what they really are – us.

David Patrick Ford plays the ringleader of the operation, Everette K. Olson. Last seen at the Hipp delivering a Guinness Book record monologue in Fahrenheit 451 that about set that play on fire, Ford now brings his bombasticism to a perfect role for its expression – a Vince McMahon-like blowhard and master manipulator.

The ensemble aside from Ford consists of the wrestling team, ranging from cagey veteran to promising rookie, Jose DeGracia, Alexis Suarez, Jonathan Bangs, and Rahul Joshi. They are opponents in the ring, but outside it they are the closest of allies, each driven by his own dreams and demons, but united in their vulnerability behind the mask of masculinity they are forced to wear.

Jonathan Bangs plays the eponymous Chad Deity, the star wrestler though not the best wrestler, whose salability exceeds his talent, while the best wrestler, Mace, played by Alexis Suarez, must play the heel. Jose DeGracia, who happens to be the real thing in real life, a 13-year veteran professional wrestler, plays a couple of Bad Guys, while Rahul Joshi assumes the identity of Vignishwa Paduar in a commercially lucrative anti-American trope that labels him The Fundamentalist.

The unsung hero of the wrestling team is Leon Scott https://mlw.com/leon-scott/, the wrestling choreographer, who has been putting the ensemble through wrestling bootcamp. “I enjoy mentoring,” he says. “I’m injured now, which is why I’ve got time for art. It’s worth it. I’m at the tail end of my career, and it’s a way of giving back.” He clearly sees his own catharsis in the endeavor.

Bertolt Brecht wanted a theater audience like the cognoscenti at a boxing match. They could cheer and jeer, but they were critics too. They knew what demonstrated skill and power and what did not.

This play promises to do just that. It is a marvelous conceit, a mirror inside a mirror, metadrama.

Pro wrestling deviates from amateur wrestling and becomes sports entertainment. It turns sport into theater. Now the theater turns sport into drama.

Another sports drama played the Hipp to great success not long ago – The Royale. That play stylized all the boxing matches and turned them into a dance rather than stage combat. That approach seemed to indicate that the drama lay in the text, not the action, that is to say, in the dialogue, not the stage directions.

There’s a crucial difference between boxing and pro wrestling that can be seen in the distinction Alberto makes between stage combat and the training Leon is putting the cast through. The actors are not combating each other. They’re not fighting. They are pro wrestling, playing a particular and peculiar sport with rules and fundamentals as demanding as gymnastics and sleight of hand. The trickery comes from the fact that in this sport the athletes aren’t playing against each other, they’re playing with each other; they’re playing against the audience, trying to make us believe what we’re seeing is real, and, more importantly, care.

Now here’s what makes the Hipp’s Chad Deity special. It’s the Hipp’s thrust stage and the set design by Timothy J. Dygert.

The Los Angeles Times said the play “leaps out of the proscenium frame at every opportunity, exhorting, drop-kicking and body-slamming its way into an immediacy that is more familiar to sporting events and rap concerts than to a traditional night of theater.”]

Well, the Hipp has that beat. The thrust stage is the wild card. The set is the arena with its wrestling ring, the squared circle. The angles poke at the audience. The fact that three sides of audience surround the arena turns the audience into a character that affects the action – just like in a real sporting event. No proscenium presentation can match that. It makes the Hipp’s Chad Deity unique.

There’s the talk.

Now let’s see if The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity can walk the walk.

 January 27-February 12

Previews: January 25-26 at 7:00 pm
Opening Night: Friday, January 27, 2023 at 8:00 p.m.

Wednesdays at 7 p.m. | Thursdays at 7 p.m. | Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8 p.m. | Sundays at 2 p.m.

Photos by Tom Miller

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