San Diego, CA —-One thing is for sure, ION Theatre Company never produces a sure thing that is unless you’ve never seen every play this little theatre that could has produced! When in doubt, do drop in to one of their productions. “The Elaborate Entrance Of Chad Deity” will WOW you off your collective feet as it did the super critical critics attending the four P.M. pre official opening this past Sat.
Names that pop into my mind from the 1940’s and 50’s, when our family was hunched before our little Zenith TV watching the wrestling matches as if it were a religious ritual, include Gorgeous George, Chief Don Eagle, (a Mohawk Native American professional wrestler) Chief Jay Strongbow, The Honkey Tonk Man and now Chad Deity of “The Elaborate Entrance of…” Oh, the world of wrestling will never be the same.
Playwright Kristoffer Diaz has wracked up a ton of credits to his name: 2011 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award; finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama; 2011 OBIE Award, Best New American Play; 2011 Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding Play and the inaugural Gail Merrifield Papp Fellowship from the Public Theatre 2011.
He’s 35 and one of his plays “Welcome to Arroyo’s” was already produced at the Old Globe in 2010 and now ION is mounting the San Diego premiere of ‘Chad Deity’ through Nov. 16th.
If someone told me going in to this 100-minute play that I would be chuckling out loud, cheering, being part of an audience participation and agreeing with this young whippersnapper’s world view of today, I would have said, “No way”.
Between the Rapp/Hip Hop music, (James Dirks and Evan Kendig) which puts me completely out of my element, the racial slurs and the f bombs, please someone take me home. But wait! She loved it, warts and all. And, the world of wrestling, that might not be everyone’s cup of ‘tea’, is as fascinating today as it was when I was a LOT younger. But even then I knew the ‘fix was in’; we all did.
I’m sure you can guess that this is not about wrestling at all but more about the myths and the celebrity that we American’s choose to idolize, which Diaz weaves so well in this symbolic, tongue-in-cheek and blatantly hilarious history lesson on race, inclusiveness, the entertainment industry and our quest for that which we know to be fraught with illusion; our obsession with fame.
“And in this corner”…. once the opening bell is sounded, we are off and running for the ride of a lifetime. Enter Mace/Macedonio Guerra (a marvelous Steven Lone) our narrator. Mace is important to the myth of Chad Deity because Chad Deity’s fame rests on the shoulders of Mace and all the others who carry out the dirty work in order for Deity to claim the fame.
You see “Chad Deity is a terrible wrestler”, but “he is extremely muscular”; “he has a winning smile”; “he has made a lot of money for The Wrestling”; “he has made of lot of money for Chad Deity” and “he’s got everything you need to be a superstar wrestler, but …being talented really aint a factor of key importance”.
Chad Deity (Vimel Sephus) also has the charisma and chutzpah to pull off the charade as long as he has Mace in his corner. He can go on about how many raisins there are in each slice of his raisin bread or he can brag about how many crisper’s he has in his refrigerator and people will listen, but really, what is he talking about?
Followers, he has learned, will hang on his every word. (“In wrestling, you can’t kick a guys ass without the help of the guy whose ass you are kicking”). Mace’s role is the guy who loses to makes the winners look good.
But when Mace comes across Vigneshwar “VP” Paduar (Keala Milles) a tall lanky basketball bouncing kid from India, or Indian –American, who can speak in Spanish, English, Hindi and Urdu and some slang in Polish, Italian and Japanese, who doesn’t know a body slam from an elbow drop, Mace convinces his boss Everett K. Olson/ EKO (Jake Rask), owner of The Wrestling to let him manage VP’s career, of course in partnership with EKO.
EKO is white and has a penchant for hiring and exploiting men of color. “What is he Afgan, Oriental? He’s not a fundamentalist…I think we can sell him as a fundamentalist”. In return they make the Big Bucks for The Boss and a household name for themselves.
EKO, the master marketing pro wants to sell ‘VP’ as The Fundamentalist. He will later coin the phrase ‘the Camel kick’ or maybe the ‘Koran Kick’, or the Kabbalah Kick’ as the match clincher kick. You get the picture. In the meantime he has a new role for Mace that will enable him to ‘sell’ “VP” as another immigrant reaching for a slice of the American Dream. He’s to market himself as ‘ Che’ a Mexican dressed in a Sombraro, and green woven vest over a bare chest and sporting a moustache. (Give kudos to Mary Summerday for her most imaginative costumes)
Associate artist Catalina Maynard and artistic director Claudio Raygoza ‘bring on’ Chad Deity sans any delicacy, political correctness, it is what it is. This is in our face, up close and personal almost to a fault; it’s a bold and raw truth whether we like it or not and because it’s so outlandish, we do. Their direction is sharp, fast paced and spot on.
Steven Lone, at his all time career best, is simply mesmerizing to watch. Dressed in red, white and blue sparkling spandex, looking somewhat like Captain Marvel, navigates us through the world of celebrity through the world of wrestling letting us in on the behind the scenes capers.
Vimel Sephus plays Chad Deity to perfection much the same as Mike Tyson plays his best Mike Tyson when he’s in front of the cameras sporting gold necklaces, jeweled championship belt and flexing his muscles. As EKO Jake Rosko is cool, calm and collected except when an idea he proposes works, he, well…you just have to hear his reaction to believe it.
Evan Kendig plays several of the fall guys or ‘bad guys’ as he has his body slammed into the mat more times that ones body should be used to. He deserves an extra hand just for being the fall guy, literally. Keala Milles is the Fundamentalist with the swift kick from nowhere. Who wouldda thunk?
Claudio Raygoza set; with an authentic looking rink off to the side of the very small ION stage is the main focus of attention especially when the men are body slamming each other. Karin Filijan’s lighting lends as much atmosphere to this seedy world of wrestling as does the hype in Jake Rosko’s voice when announcing a match about to begin.
Is this a play to suit inquiring minds?
If you are looking for exciting, non traditional and an exhilarating evening of theater, yes it is.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Nov. 16th
Organization: Ion Theatre Company
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 3704 Sixth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103
Ticket Prices: $29.00-$35.00