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Theatre Review (LA): The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz at the Geffen Playhouse

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The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz is a Pulitzer finalist that began in 2009 at the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago and then moved to the Second Stage in New York, where it garnered several awards including the 2011 New York Times Play Prize, the Obie Award for Best New American Play, and the Lucile Lortel Award for Best New Play. That said, while I could appreciate many aspects of the play including the set, the spectacle, and the acting, overall I was less than thrilled at this loud, obnoxious and obvious play.

The set by Brian Sidney Bembridge consists of a wrestling ring with lights all around which add to the glitzy feeling. Screens that give the audience a close-up view of the action surround this ring. Lighting designer Jesse Klug lights the proceedings with appropriate panache. The costumes, what there is of them, are splashy and colorful, designed by Christina Haatainen Jones.

This is first and foremost a wrestling play, a pro wrestling play, as such peopled by over-the-top characters. They are well played and have received accolades in New York. My problem with them is the sound level and the aggressive hip-hop dialogue. I felt assaulted. Some of this was amusing but basically ended up alienating me.

Terrence Archie is Chad Deity, the reigning “Champ” and the “Good Guy” in wrestling terms. He is paired with Desmin Borges (Macedonio Guerra – AKA Mace), the “bad guy” played by professional wrestler Justin Leeper. Timothy Talbot is both “Billy Heartland” and “Old Glory.” Borges’ character is the spokesperson for the play and the storyteller. His character has been the traditional fall guy for Chad, and he enlists the help of a guy from the streets, Usman Ally (Vigneshwar Paduar). Together they form a tag team as a Cuban (Borges) and a Taliban insurgent (Ally). This doesn’t work out very well since they both feel exploited (they are not Cuban or Taliban) and Ally’s character quits. Their greedy manipulative manager is Everett K. Olson (Steve Valentine) who is suitably slimy.

The wrestling spectacle is really minimal and I recalled a much better experience and real wrestling years ago in a play about female fighters called Trafford Tanzi. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is heralded as an expose on American values and the exploitation of minorities. I already knew this about pro wrestling so there was nothing new here except the actors. Edward Torres, who might have modulated all this better, directed the play, which will run at the Geffen Playhouse until October 9.

Image courtesy Geffen Playhouse

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