Providence’s newest theater, the Wilbury Group operates out of a defunct mill in Olneyville. These nights they are taking on a feisty play, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” which was a runner-up for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. While it begins with a look at professional wrestling, Bill Gale says it aims considerably higher.
Back in the middle ages when I was a kid in the New York borough of Queens I was – I’ll admit it – a huge fan of pro wrestling on black and white television. So was my mother, for goodness sake. We knew very well that it was all phony, scripted and acted like, well, like a play.
We didn’t care.
Our hero was right out of Brooklyn. He was tagged the “Golden Superman” complete with gleaming blond hair, muscles, cape, and sandals with golden ribbons extending around his legs.
Those were the days. We thought they’d never end.
Which brings me, sort of, to “Chad Deity” by Brooklyn born and raised playwright Kristoffer Diaz, who, it turns out, loved pro wrestling even more than I did. He studied the game and came up with a play exposing the phoniness of it all and gets into much deeper subjects in a high-energy POW!, wham!, crack! production at the Wilbury.
His hero is not the title character. Chad Deity is the heavy, or one of them. Writing about what he knows, playwright Diaz’s hero is a Brooklyn Hispanic kid named Macedonio and called “Mace.” He wends his way into wrestling, not as a star, but as the bad guy, the one all the fans love to see get whupped, big-time.
At Wilbury, director Josh Short’s rollicking production is filled with youth and drive and tinged with middle-age despair, too. Basically, the set is a wrestling ring, where a loose floor emphasizes the wham and the bam when a body is hurtled downward from on high.
Off to the sides there are three huge monitors which show the onstage battles and give you that TV feel.
The actors have been trained in techniques of the game but you still wonder how the heck they avoid injury as they are slammed and rammed. Mace is done with poetic grace by Jo-An Peralta who catches the young man’s yearning, his mix of “I’m doing well” and “Is this all there is”? Amos Hamrick is the title character and he’s bodaciously mean and sharp.
Benjamin Gracia plays a fake bad-guy Muslim wrestler with good humor and Stuart Wilson is immensely strong as a wrestling guy called Billy Heartland or sometimes Old Glory. And Vince Petronio, who was so fine in 2nd Story Theatre’s “A Few Good Men,” gives another strong performance as the Anglo guy who runs the show.
As I said “Chad Deity” has bigger aims than “exposing” wrestling once again. Playwright Diaz is looking at personal identity, the struggles of immigrants, the misuse of the weak and poor by the powerful. “There is “no country called America,” Mace says.
In truth, these ideas are a bit cloudy, a bit underdone in “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.” But, still, this is a strong production of a play of promise, of hope, a glimpse of America now. It’s worth a trip to Olneyville.
Want to Go?
“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity continues at the Wilbury Group through February 9th.