If you’ve ever wanted to see the back stage politics of the world of professional wrestling “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” now playing at Woolly Mammoth through October 7 is a good place to start. And if you aren’t, the show still stands up as a drama of two characters faced with choices about about the portrayl of racial sterotypes. The show is inspired by a real life storyline from the WWE, involving Muhammad Hassan and Dairari. But like Law & Order episodes that are ripped from the headlines the similarities end there.
Right from the beginning of the show I realized that this show was going to be a trip down memory lane for me. It opens with our storyteller Mace, a Puerto Rican wrestler originally from New York played by Jose Joaquin Perez, telling of his childhood watching the WWF. While I am slightly older than the character I fondly remember the days of watching wrestling on Saturday mornings, or my father taking me to the old Capital Centre in Landover to watch a live event, or even to a hotel in DC to watch Wrestlemania 1 on Closed Circuit TV, as home pay per view was not yet available. And the callbacks to the 1980s and 90s in professional wrestling didn’t end there. The most obvious being Chad Deity, played by Shawn T. Andrews, standing in the shoes of Hulk Hogan. A champion that is wildly popular but isn’t all that skilled in the ring. Or “The Wrestling”, the professional wrestling organization in the show, using a verison of Bret Hart’s “the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be” catchphrase as a promotional tool. Or Justin Long, a real professional wrestler making his theater debut, taking on the role of several wrestlers in the second act that were clearly inspired by the likes of 80’s mainstays Hillbilly Jim and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.
Enough of the nostalgia, the show centers around Mace. A hardworking wrestler who will never be a champion, but is excellent in the ring and putting over the wrestler’s he works with. He discovers a young man from New York City of Indian decent named VP, that has a reputation of talking a great game on the basketball court and to the ladies. While VP doesn’t have the wrestling skills, Mace believes he has the skills on the microphone to become a successful professional wrestler. Mace introduces VP to E.K.O., the owner of The Wrestling and our stand in for the WWE’s Vince McMahon. E.K.O. isn’t interested in using the smooth microphone skills of VP and instead decides to cast him as a Muslim fundamentalist who doesn’t speak and casts Mace as a Mexican revolutionary that hates the United States and they are destined to face our hero, Chad Deity. From here you get introduced to back stage wrestling politics that must be confronted by two characters that are offended by the storyline, but one that is new to the industry and another who has made the industry his life.
During the show Jose Joaquin Perez as Mace describes his job as doing the heavy lifting in the wrestling ring for the less skilled performers. And while the skill on stage from his fellow performers in this show wasn’t inferior, Mr. Perez was left to do the heavy lifting as not only the protagonist, but also our storyteller and guide through the show and never drops that heavy load. He also does a good job of making sure those uninitiated into the world of professional wrestling aren’t left behind. On occasion during the show the storytelling is left to Adi Hanash as VP, who slyly reveals that he is more than just a smooth talking baller from the streets of New York. Michael Russotto and Shawn Andrews, as E.K.O. and Deity do a good job of showing the reality of the behind the scene politics of professional wrestling and how what is most important is the story and not who holds the championship. And as a fan of wrestling I really enjoyed the performance of Justin Long and his cartoon like portrayl of several characters and his work in drawing in a theater audience to the world of professional wrestling.
All-in-all an entertaining theater experience and trip down memory lane.
Next Up: Fly at Ford’s Theater October 11 and Dying City at Signature Theater October 13.