By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
What is the one thing you'd expect to see in a play about the world of professional televised wrestling? And what is missing from The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, which just opened in a passive-aggressive production by Dallas Theater Center at the Wyly Theatre?
That would be wrestling. There are elaborate entrances of the title character (played as a swaggering demi-god by Corey Jones) and other stars of "The Wrestling," a WWE-like outfit that casts beefy heroes for maximum earning power. But in more than two hours on a stage that is, in fact, built as a wrestling ring, you'll see only scant seconds of back bumps, body slams and "camel clutches."
The rest of the time, a character named Mace (Alex Hernandez) talks about the make-believe sport in a nearly nonstop monologue delivered to the audience. Theater calls this "direct address." But it's lazy playwriting by Kristoffer Diaz, another hot young playwright latched onto by DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty. Diaz, who lives in Brooklyn, has been commissioned by DTC to write new scripts about professional basketball and football. If they turn out anything like Chad Deity, they'll talk a blue streak about their subject. Whatever happened to the old writer's commandment, "Show, don't tell"?
The story Chad Deity tells is and isn't about the flim-flammery of TV wrestling. Narrator Mace loves his job as designated loser to "champion" Chad. What Mace hates is how the guy who runs the company, Everett K. Olson (DTC company member Kieran Connolly, the only local in the cast), feeds fans racial stereotypes. That even applies to Chad, who enters the ring dressed in pimp suits, tossing fake dollars with his face printed on them in the air. (Wonder how the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders organization feels about having girls dressed in look-alike uniforms portrayed as Chad's slutty harem? You see them in slick videos shown on jumbo screens hung in the four corners of the Wyly.)
Mace wants to change the image of wrestling and ascend to management. He discovers a charismatic young Brooklyn athlete named Vigneshwar Paduan (Aly Mawji) and brings him in for a tryout. The boss isn't convinced of his potential until Mace spins a storyline about a new baddie, an anti-American Middle Easterner nicknamed "The Fundamentalist." It clicks. Mace, recast as Mexican terrorist "Che Chavez Castro" (the play's one truly funny idea), becomes the sidekick for the newcomer, who makes his entrance wearing a keffiyeh, a scraggly black beard and sticks of fake dynamite strapped to his torso. The image of a "cave-dwelling fucktamentalist," says Olson, is supposed to "scare the fucking fuck out of the fucking fuck-fucks." (The play is lavishly littered with profanity.)
You see where this is going. And however offensive you think it might be, it's much, much worse. There are scenes played for comedy in Chad Deity involving jokes about the Koran and images of women in mini-burqas slithering around a wrestler wearing short-shorts emblazoned with gold Arabic script. If Diaz was shooting for "Springtime for Bin Laden," his play has so many conflicting, overlapping metaphors — wrestling as a mirror of American attitudes on race, wrestling as politics, wrestling as bad morality play — and his script is so un-funny, any trenchant message is lost. It all just feels icky. (Though I couldn't decide who'd be more put off by it, wrestling fans, Muslims or Jerry Jones.)
Over-produced a hundredfold (Confetti cannons! Pounding soundtrack! Movable seat sections!), Chad Deity, directed by Jaime Castaneda, has not even cast lead actors who could pass as professional wrestlers. Mawji is so short and slight he looks like he'd have trouble holding his own against Peter Pan. The only one who looks right is Jamin Olivencia, who worked for WWE Raw and Smackdown and choreographed the few fight moves in this show. He plays nonspeaking roles "Billy Heartland" and "Old Glory," two of the red-white-and-blue guys defeated by "The Fundamentalist."
The one Dallas actor in the ensemble, Kieran Connolly, doesn't bring enough Trump to the role of the wrestling boss. He's more like Cliff Claven in a tailored suit.
Chad Deity is a small, mean play masquerading as a main event.