It was hard to know precisely what to expect heading into The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity during its opening weekend at Mixed Blood. I knew it was a play about professional wrestling, and that it tackled the murky intersection between race, money, entertainment, and authenticity. Could be terrific, I thought. Or a train wreck.
The show is narrated by Macedonio (Gerardo Rodriguez), a lifelong pro-wrestling geek from the Bronx who has made the big time: a regular gig wrestling for THE (a clear stand-in for WWF, or WWE, or WTF, or whatever they're calling it these days), the brainchild of impresario Everett K. Olson (Edwin Strout).
Macedonio is a wrestling purist and historian, unlike his boss, who would presumably set kittens ablaze on television if it brought him ratings and cash. And his priorities are shared by his prize wrestler, the chiseled and charismatic Chad Deity (Ansa Akyea).
Akyea does indeed make an elaborate entrance, dancing, flexing, mugging, and managing to fill the auditorium with the energy of his presence. He's a terrific counterpoint to Rodriguez, who delivers his narration to the audience with wry humor and a sense of humility.
The plot veers with the discovery of Vigneshwar (Shalin Agarwal), an Indian from Brooklyn who is a force of nature and generally a constant one-man party. Macedonio hatches the idea of bringing this hip-hop quasi genius to the world of wrestling; naturally, the boss decides instead to twist things around and, soon enough, the character of "The Fundamentalist" has appeared in the ring to challenge all things American and, it seems, Chad Deity himself.
Kristoffer Diaz's script is deep, smart, and full of wit, and this production absolutely nails down all the tricky ideas it (sorry) wrestles with. In a very deft way, this wrestling parable ends up being a meditation on America that twists its own ideas on the fly and comes to an appropriately ambiguous conclusion.
But we'll tackle the weightier side of things tomorrow. For now, the salient fact: this show is incredibly fun. There is super-charged acting. There is ass kicking. There is wrestling: slams to the mat, arm twisting, and transparently fake punches. The guys in the cast are all plausibly athletic (Akyea is actually plausibly huge, pro-wrestling worthy), and the mix of physicality, acting chops, and brains in this show makes it distinctive.
As a recommendation, I'll say that this was the third show I'd seen in as many days. I came out of it charged up, loving the art form of theater, and feeling revivified that I'd seen a rarity: a piece of art that satisfies on levels refined and crass, lofty and lowdown. It felt tinged with undeniable greatness.