Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
The protagonist is Macedonio Guerra (aka The Mace), a Bronx-born Puerto Rican who fell in love with professional wrestling on TV as a child, and has finally achieved his dream of wrestling in the big leagues, represented here by THE Wrestling (a fictional version of WWF). He learns, however, that in the world of pro wrestling the skilled athletes are not allowed to win; instead, they are the designated losers. The stars of the circuitgolden boys like Chad Dietyare chosen for their looks and audience appeal, not for their wrestling skills; only they are allowed an "elaborate entrance" into the arena. It is the job of skilled but largely anonymous workers like Mace to lose convincinglyto "make it work"in order to make these media darlings look like winners without anyone getting hurt.
Mace is the embodiment of taking one for the team. Besides being the designated fall guy, he chooses not to protest when EKO (Everett K. Olson, the mastermind and literal ringmaster of THE) asks him to play increasingly cartoonish (and comically confusing) racial stereotypes who take their beat-downs from Chad. These include a sombrero-wearing, bongo-beating, cigar-chewing Mexican wrestler named Che Chavez Castro, who fights for his people's right to pick grapes. Mace sees this for the ridiculous pandering that it is, but his job is to "keep his mouth shut and make it work." As for EKO, nothing is off limits if he can sell more merchandise to the gaping fans.
In his capitulation, Mace even encourages his Indian friend and protégé, the charismatic hoops-hustling Brooklyn boy Vigneshwar Paduar (aka VP), to accept EKO's proposal that he play the role of an America-hating radical Islamic jihadist named The Fundamentalist. Entering the ring garbed like Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, The Fundamentalist hops onto a Walmart-issue yoga mat for a moment of prayer, then mesmerizes his opponent by standing mysteriously motionless and silent until he suddenly dispatches him with a move that EKO joyfully christens "the Sleeper Cell." The Fundamentalist is such a hit that he becomes a heavily hyped rival to Chad Deity, and even gets his own elaborate entrance, which features (naturally) a troupe of dancing virgins wearing nothing but black bikinis and niqabs (in hilarious video projections by Wesley Hirni, Chuck Akin, and Brett Alters of Oogoog Productions).
In THE's boundless pandering, even the designated hero draws heavily on stereotypes. America's favorite Chad Deity is a huge, preening, muscle-bound African-American man who sports a toothy grin, an awesome strut, and eyes that pop. On the one hand he is presented as a superhero, yet he is the spitting image of Jim Crow.
In this adroit staging by director Kate St.-Pierre, the wrestling is fun and convincingly real. St.-Pierre engages the audience in both the spectacle and the moral complexities. Her actor-wrestlers are fine performers who can also take a pounding (and who are surely grateful for the help of wrestling choreographer Sinn Bodhi).
As Mace, the everyman who is trying to live his dream, the talented Jonas Woolverton (from Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity) makes us feel both his love for the sport and his willful blindness to his role as enabler. Because Mace is both the narrator and the conflicted protagonist, Woolverton must draw the audience in even as his character's complicity disappoints us; he succeeds on both counts.
Richard Villafuerte is a charming chameleon as the street smart VP, who can switch ethnicities in the blink of an eye but who is quicker than Mace to question whether a paycheck and besotted fans are worth the personal price. Villafuerte's audience interactions are a hoot.
Scott Carl McAdam is splendid as EKO, the "suit" who manipulates both the wrestlers and the fans. While EKO's eye is always on the prizemaking moneyMcAdam's performance is admirably reined it, never tilting into caricature.
As the glorious Chad Deity, the formidable Mychal Fox is both electrifying and versatile. He is equally convincing whether he is playing to the crowd or dialing it down for some straight talk with Mace.
Rounding out the cast, Michael Dollar is endearingly goofy as an assortment of flabby wrestlers, including two good ol' boys ignominiously vanquished by the Sleeper Cellthe flag-waving camouflage-panted Old Glory, and the all-American Billy Heartland, complete with prodigious butt crack and horrific bed hair.
A timely choice for this most troubling of election years, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity induces squirms with its parade of ethnic stereotypes designed to pander to a segment of the American populace that revels in jingoism, fakery, and self-delusion. Has the line between cartoons and reality ever been so fine?
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity continues through October 30, 2016 (Wednesday-Thursday at 8 pm, Saturday- Sunday at 2pm, no Friday performances) at the Art Square Theater, 1025 S. 1st St., # 145, Las Vegas, NV 89104. (Note that the theatre entrance is actually on S. 1st St. for this production). For tickets ($20 adult, $16 for students, military, and over 55) or other information, go to www.cockroachtheatre.com.
Lighting design by Matt Staniec; sound design by Thom Chrastka; wardrobe design by Rose Scarborough.