Kristoffer Diaz’s 2009 play is an entertaining slam of all things masscult, one that works on multiple levels. Macedonio “Mace” Guerra (the outstanding José Joaquin Pérez) is an artist doing what he has always wanted to do, performing as a professional wrestler. Small but physically talented, he is a journeyman playing the “heel” roles, making the charismatic “face” wrestlers (like the titular Chad Deity, well played with preening entitlement by Shawn T. Andrew) look good—and not getting his neck broken in the process.
When the beleaguered Mace meets Vigneshwar “VP” Paduar (Adi Hanash), an Indian immigrant in Brooklyn with moxie and mojo to match Chad’s, he envisions a story line for the two of them that ends with the little guy on top. Alas, his dreams are quickly co-opted by the promoter Everett K. “E.K.O” Olson (fearsome Michael Russotto), who is as culturally tone deaf as any Hollywood suit.
What makes the satire work is that hardly any cultural group escapes ridicule. The hayseed Billy Heartland (with a perfect theme song from Big and Rich) is just as annoying and stereotyped as the Muslim terrorist character that E.K.O. assigns to VP. Chad Deity serves to lampoon two conventionally opposed groups: he’s a trash-talking African-American and a Romney Republican who makes his entrance into the ring tossing dollar bills to the crowd.
What makes the show work as theater is the quiet intensity of Pérez. He narrates much of the story as a fourth wall-breaking monologue, and he’s not afraid to make us wait for what he has to say—this is appropriate, because Mace has spent his life withholding his true thoughts from others in order to keep a job, in order to get by. When Mace finally unloads on E.K.O. in a bravura surrogate fight scene (with echoes of a similar climax in Lanford Wilson’s Book of Days), pleading for the opportunity to tell his own story, we get the physical release that we’ve been hoping for.
Doing his part to make of Pérez look good in turn is James Long, who covers three ensemble roles and is a professional wrestler IRL.
In a story in which every character has at least one name given to him by someone else, a world of traditional Mexican face masks and engineered personas, of outer borough denizens reappropriating one another’s “authentic street” culture, perhaps it’s fitting that VP’s dialect is a little slippery.
If you really did get to tell your story, what would that look like?
- The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, by Kristoffer Diaz, directed by John Vreeke, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington