Race, wrestling and an elaborate entrance

Last night I got an invitation to head to Victory Garden’s to see the newest play on the stage there . I said yes before I even knew what the play was and after I realized it was a play about professional wrestling, I still went.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz is the play we saw and I’m still catching my breath. I have never believed an actor more than I believed Desmin Borges as Mace. Except for how much I believed Usman Ally as Vigneshwar Paduar.

The synopsis: Mace is a professional wrestler. He’s a really good professional wrestler. He’s not the champion though — that’s the impossibly charismatic Chad Deity. When Mace discovers a young Indian-American Brooklyn kid (Vigneshwar Paduar) whose charisma rivals that of the champ, Mace decides to get him a job in the company. Only problem is, the boss (Everett K. Olson) has a very specific plan for the duo: put them onscreen as terrorists. A serious minded comedy about wrestling, geopolitics, and raisin bread.

I left breathless and it took me an hour to catch my breath. A day later, thinking about the final scenes, my chest tightens again. This show is brilliant. This show will win award after award after award. You need more from me than that, don’t you?

As soon as Mace starts the play, I feel like I’m at a slam poetry show. Not the Green Mill version of Slam Poetry (yeah, I know, that’s where it started) but the visceral slam poetry of high school students who have found no other legal way to be heard. I remembered a night of slam poetry that I went to years ago that was all Asian high school kids, where my eyes were opened to racism felt by those students and the stereotypes they battled.

Desmin Borges perfectly has all of the rhythm of slam poetry, but it is accessible. I’m not into slam poetry, but I’m sucked into the cadence. I’m with him, lying on the floor in the Bronx watching wrestling. Playing with wrestling guys. Telling stories with toys. Scripting with action figures. I’m with him through every single scene.

When he breaks through the fourth wall and we react to him – the way we’re supposed to – you see that the character is tickled he’s having that response. (It’s like when the kids have to clap to wake Tinkerbell up, but better).

The play deals with race, stereotypes, politics and money is such a smart way. The main characters are Puerto Rican (but forced to play the caricature of a Mexican in the ring), an Indian (forced to play a Middle Eastern caricature), an African American (throwing $100 bills in the air) and the only one-dimensional character, the white boss.

I’m still turning the ending over and over in my head. For much of the play, I thought that Chad Deity (the black wrestler) was being played as a fool for comic relief. But today, I’m not so sure that’s the end of it. I don’t want to give away the ending, but writing anymore.

The set was brilliant with the backdrop being full of subtle (and not so subtle) phallic symbols. There was incredible and appropriate use of live video and recorded video to tell the story and not distract from the story. Breaking through the fourth wall worked. The asides that Mace makes in between dialogue works.

The whole play work. Take your high school kids, but be ready to have a serious talk about race and politics after the play.

Congrats to Kristoff and the whole team. This is the best thing I’ve seen on stage in ages, if not ever.

P.S. There are a ton of great photos on Flickr, but they aren’t allowed to be used anywhere. That’s a shame.

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