The experience of seeing The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity the first time was, for me, a series of uniquely fortuitous revelations. Sitting in the back row of the bleacher-style seats before the show, I decided to see what part of Twitter was currently on fire. I happened to randomly scroll to a few threads in which writers – primarily screenwriters – were retweeting comments sent to them by followers plainly asking them to please, just for them, leave their politics out of the TV shows, films and video games they write.
In response, a few of the writers labeled the task as impossible and shared a decades-old Letter-to-the-Editor written by comic-book magnate Stan Lee: “A story without a message, however subliminal, is like a man without a soul. In fact, even the most escapist literature of all – old-time fairy tales and heroic legends – contained moral and philosophical points of view.”
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, written and directed by Kristoffer Diaz, cleverly extends this argument: what is unsaid is often just as important as what is put to paper. Deity is a play about a talented young wrestler named Mace (Gil Perez-Abraham), propelled by his childhood dreams to the greatest wrestling organization in the world only to be subsequently buried at the bottom of that mass-marketed totem pole.
Mace is the fall guy of THE Wrestling (a title as apt as it is blunt). He’s grateful to have a role in the industry and as such is content to play a generic luchador with a record of 0 wins. More often than not, he’s being pummeled by the titular Chad Deity (Javon Johnson), a prototypical American caricature of chest-beating bravado with a love of cash. His Elaborate Entrance, as explained by THE Wrestling CEO Everett K. Olsen (Patrick Jordan), is not just a symbol of America and its many freedoms but a reason for those freedoms. Soldiers go to war and come home so they can watch Chad Deity hit a foreigner with a steel chair, in other words.
Things get shaken up once Mace discovers Vigneshwar Paduar (Nicola Slade), an Indian American from Mace’s neighborhood who easily matches Chad Deity’s form, ego and exploded masculinity, and tries to get him a job at THE Wrestling. Olsen – who chooses to go by EKO – is initially uninterested in espousing Indian stereotypes but reverts his position once he realizes he can market Paduar – who chooses to go by VP – as an amalgam of Middle Eastern, Muslim stereotypes. And so, VP becomes “The Fundamentalist,” a silent, bearded figure who prays to Allah in between rounds and stands in opposition to the All-American grandiosity of Chad Deity. Because, you know, people will love that.
Deity is among the greatest examples of American satire in recent memory. Almost entirely narrated directly through the fourth wall by the ever-hopeful Mace, this is a frenetic play interlaced with sharp characterization, speedily edited prerecorded footage, monomaniacal ignorance and some honest-to-God wrestling. It isn’t that we haven’t seen these caricatures satirized before, but the authentic specificity of the subject matter breathes new life into a familiar story of institutional racism and misrepresentation.
To be clear, that ‘honest-to-God’ wrestling I mentioned is an active, live element of the play. The stage is literally a functional wrestling ring, and yes, it is used to the fullest. The events in the ring are often the hinge on which the play’s drama swings, but they’re also simply well-choreographed and fun to watch. It’s kind of a surreal thing, watching a wrestling match play out in the Ace Hotel with a bunch of well-dressed theater goers, but when the audience is encouraged to cheer at the action it doesn’t feel like an obligation so much as it’s just what you do when one guy in tights pile drives another guy in tights.
As far as the play’s broader relationship with this subject matter goes, there is a clear love of the form and disgust with its practice. Mace, for example, is the first to jump to “art” as a descriptor for wrestling, even in the face of EKO’s evident disinterest in the show’s higher capacity; throughout the play, Mace voices his frustration with the tasks he is given to us, the audience, but makes it clear that he doesn’t voice that opinion to anyone around him for fear of being ousted. He is not where he wants to be, but getting there is everything to him.
Conversely to Mace, VP begins going off script during matches in opposition to the nature of his character. His anger is not directed towards Chad Deity the man or the actor but the very meaning at the heart of his fame. It’s a fresh, prescient take on an establishment reform argument that’s at least as old as the concept itself: do you quietly accept injustice within a system and swing it closer to your chosen goal through the merit of your presence, or do you undermine that system until it bends towards your ideal version of equality or justice?
At a time when people are literally gazing wide-eyed at a doomsday clock closing in on midnight, the reform of cultural representation in pro-wrestling may not seem on its face a pressing issue. However, we all use some entertainment as an escape, and it’s in these moments we are subtly challenging and reinforcing preconceptions in ourselves. Roger Ebert described film in his autobiography Life Itself as “a machine that generates empathy,” an assertion easily translated to any art form. A lack of inclusivity therefore indicates that said machine is broken; functioning empathy does not mean coming to a deep understanding of a single strata of people and the dismissal of all others, and the long term consequences of underrepresentation in many forms of American entertainment are apparent.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety is extremely easy to recommend to just about anyone. Like any great comedy, it engages you with its urgency and likability, leaving the revelations for you to consider yourself outside the theater. It’s a play that proves its argument by nature of its very existence; there are no spaces in entertainment that exist as ideological vacuums, even in television. The shows that want you to believe they fulfill that need are themselves making a statement by omission. Even in this conclusion, Kristoffer Diaz finds hope in disappointment, because it’s not that wrestling isn’t a great thing for the people that love it – it just needs to be a great thing to more of the people that love it.
Special thanks to barebones productions for complimentary press tickets. For tickets and more information check out barebones productions’ website here.