When Muhammad Hassan made his debut on WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) RAW in 2004, he was accompanied by his sidekick, Daivari, ranting in Persian, interrupting a tribute to the soldiers in Iraq. Raucous boos arose, and the crowd began chanting “USA!” Here was the enemy: a perfectly crafted, predetermined, suspicious Arab “American” who insulted the troops by calling them infidels. The world of professional wrestling is not above such gimmicks. Actually, gimmicks are the base of its existence.
In “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” playwright Kristoffer Diaz tackles the blunt racism of professional wrestling. A finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, the play pummels you with wit, smacks you with snappy critiques of American exceptionalism and delivers heavy punches to the racist ideologues that infest the rings of modern-day wrestling. Pro wrestling is pure performance, not sport. It has predetermined outcomes in which the loser must writhe with over-exaggerated pain for the pleasure of screaming audience members, in which bulging muscular men must make angry declarations of their manhood in cheesy promotional videos and someone, preferably the real American, must take a folding chair and whack it on someone’s back. Only then is satisfaction guaranteed.
“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” is the story of Cuban wrestler Macedonio Guerra, or Mace (because wrestling fans can’t pronounce his actual name), who must dutifully and consistently lose his wrestling matches against the all-American favorite, Chad Deity. In the Aurora Theatre Company production, Mace is played by Tony Sancho, who is making his Bay Area debut with the play. Shimmering in a white silk cape and a golden speedo, Chad Deity, played by Beethoven Oden, flexes his pecs, thrusts his pelvis back and forth and showers money upon an awestruck crowd. He represents America: gluttonous, gaudy and glorified, propped up by the wealth of corporations, indulging in excess and materialism, defeating his opponents with brute force and a winning smile.
The story takes off when Mace finds a young Indian kid, Vigneshwar Paduar or, VP, with a knack for spitting rhymes, trash-talking and flirting in multiple languages. He is perfect for pro wrestling. Mace’s boss, Everett K. Olson, or Eko, is the head honcho of a well-known wrestling corporation aptly named “THE Wrestling” and asks Mace about VP: “He’s brown, not like you, and that’s not racist, so relax. What is he, Afghan? Oriental?” Mace responds, “That’s a rug. And a rug. But I don’t tell my boss that. I tell him Vigneshwar Paduar is from India.” Eko replies, “He’s not a fundamentalist, is he? I think I might be able to sell a fundamentalist.”
Indeed, selling is what Eko specializes in, and selling stereotypes, whether of Muslims as terrorists and fundamentalists or Latinos as militant communists, is what wrestling is all about. In the play, wrestling is a microcosm of the Western world, where good guys, i.e. America, reign over bad guys, i.e. everyone else. By participating in wrestling, these caricatured ethnic communities become a part of the system that perpetuates their oppression, and how they deal with their precarious position in the wrestling ring and outside of it is the crux of this story.
With just a ring in the center and a set of steps behind, the simplicity of the set balances the complexity of the play. The characters speak from different steps, standing in higher or lower places in relation to one another, physically displaying hierarchies of race through their positions on the stage.
Aurora Theatre is intimate — intimate enough to see the sweat lining an actor’s brow, intimate enough to cringe at the echoing thuds of bodies slamming on floors, intimate enough to see an old man dozing off in the first row.
Theater is usually populated by the old, white and privileged. But “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” is for a different demographic. It references contemporary rappers, multiple languages, modern technology and slang from the streets. In the words of playwright Kristoffer Diaz, this is “theater that welcomes people who don’t give a shit about theater.” Finally, here is a pointed, poignant play for the general public.
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