You would be forgiven if you mistook the characters and wrestling in The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity for the “real” thing. The production does everything in its power to create an uncanny representation of a WWE match: a small scale wrestling ring, video / light shows, giant character entrances and audience participation cues are all used to get the crowd in the same head space as die-hard wrestling fans. It is incredibly easy to get swept up in the pure entertainment of what is on display. However, as soon as you are sold on the show’s setting, Chad Deity utilizes this immersion to deliver powerful messages on racial appropriation within the American dream.
Chad Deity follows the story of Mace (Alejandro Tey) and VP (Priyank Thakkar), relative newcomers to the T.H.E wrestling company, as they attempt to rise the ranks and attain the World Champion title currently held by Chad Deity (Semaj Miller). Attaining the title, however, is completely removed from actual wrestling ability; the title is instead tied to how well each wrestler can create and market their fictional personas to the crowd. The primary conflict then comes between the newcomers and commissioner EKO (Mickey O’Sullivan), as EKO typecasts Mace and VP as racial caricatures of a dangerous Mexican revolutionary and an Islamic extremist (respectively) based purely on their appearance and despite them being neither of those things. After all, if Chad Deity’s popularity as an appropriation of the black hip-hop star is anything to go by, EKO knows what sells to the masses.
The drama is delivered in powerful monologues by each of the characters who are subjected to being reduced to one-dimensional characters in the ring. Mace, VP, and Chad all literally stop the action in the show to address the audience directly on the complexities and nuances reconciling their backgrounds to the characters they play in the ring. The depth of each backstory provides powerful context to the events that occur in real time and serves to get the audience even more engaged and invested in the characters on display as they find their place in the American dream. By the end of the show, you will feel like you know the characters and will be sad to see them go.
In-between these monologues are some of the best choreographed action scenes I have seen in a long time. What starts as cast-driven audience participations to gasp and clap and boo become legitimate reactions as the wrestlers actually throw, grapple, and power-bomb each other live in front of the audience. This is all compounded with incredible lighting and sound design which mixes with the action to create scenes that rival professional wrestling you can see today. If that wasn’t enough, the wrestling is cut with comedic beats that are consistently funny and provide levity to both the drama and the combat. As mentioned before, it is incredibly easy to get swept up in what is happening on stage; it is obvious the production team and cast worked tirelessly to ensure all aspects of these scenes were flawlessly executed.
Red Theatre’s production of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is a powerhouse of a show that should not be missed. The pure spectacle of the action paired with engaging character drama and expertly delivered comedy makes for an experience I would recommend to anyone.
Review by Ryan Moore
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity continues through Sept. 16th at Strawdog Theatre. More information here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreinChicago's Review Round-Up.