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Theater Review: “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” at Woolly Mammoth

Woolly Mammoth’s first show of the season takes on the theatrical, often gruesome world of professional wrestling.

James Long and Shawn T. Andrew in The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. Photograph by Stan Barouh.

For years, boxing has provided raw symbolism, heart-pumping action, and emotional
underdog stories for stage and screen writers alike. The brassy, teenage-boy-approved,
choreographed spectacle of professional televised wrestling, on the other hand, is
rarely deemed worthy of serving as dramatic fodder. So playwright
Kristoffer Diaz and director
John Vreeke are breaking new body-slamming, power-bombing ground with 2010 Pulitzer finalist

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, playing at Woolly Mammoth through September 30. Like its colorful subject matter,
this satirical production is plenty entertaining, but you can’t help but feel that
the onstage action isn’t quite the real thing.

At the center of the script is Mace (Jose Joaquin Perez), the endearing narrator and go-to loser in THE Wrestling League’s theatrical matchups.
Fueled by his love of the “art” of pro wrestling, Mace is willing to overlook his
profession’s glaring injustices. Perez’s performance is funny and perhaps the most
layered of the cast, with a breezy but tough affect, and he often interacts directly
with the audience. Similarly notable are the gravelly-voiced
Michael Russotto as the league’s greedy head honcho and announcer, and Chad Deity himself, an imposing

Shawn T. Andrew, who has the cocky, all-talk-and-no-talent showmanship of the league’s biggest name
in a firm headlock. When Mace discovers a neighborhood kid (Adi Hanash) whose charisma rivals Deity’s, the two join forces in the ring, but they soon learn
that buying into the league’s flashy professional ladder comes at sometimes bruising

The “real” drop-kicking, chair-swinging action you’d recognize from the WWE doesn’t
appear here until the second act, and consequently, earlier scenes feel a little dull
by comparison. Expository monologues and dialogues could do more to flesh out characters
and set up the jarringly raucous later parts. But the overarching uneven quality aside,
the show delivers in tapping into that same draw that glues violence-happy prepubescents
to Pay-Per-View Wrestlemania offstage: over-the-top personalities and bone-crunching
moves. It’s a shame real-life pro wrestler
James Long (playing multiple roles and serving as assistant fight choreographer) doesn’t enter
the ring until after intermission. His scene-stealing theatrics elevate the testosterone-laden
smackdowns and often-believable moves to a whole new level. In fact, the fight scenes
in general are impressively gymnastic, with nearly each member of the five-man cast
having his turn at laying out an opponent with a sickeningly loud thud.

Pulse-pounding maneuvers, a hip-hop soundtrack, and live and stock wrestling footage
projected across the stark set create a distinctive mood; less concrete is the message
and tone the show is going for. Strong performances help to distract from muddled
commentary on consumerism, racial stereotypes, and cutthroat American values, though
they can’t cancel out the blurriness completely. In scenes that could pack a powerful
punch as satire, characters play it straight, and within the often ridiculous world
of professional wrestling, the effect is significantly dulled. The Hulk Hogans and
Dwayne “the Rock” Johnsons have an unspoken agreement with their fans: You accept
what we’re doing is totally bogus, and we’ll give you an over-the-top clash of scripted
good versus evil. Exploring and lampooning what that says about our society is what
Chad Deity such a promising premise, and this a largely enjoyable show. It’s the terms of the
production’s own bargain with its viewers that aren’t nearly as obvious.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
is at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company through September 30. Running time is two and
a half hours, including a 15-minute intermission. Tickets ($35 and up) and are available
via Woolly Mammoth’s website.