Wrestling as theatre at Wilbury Group
My mother used to sit in front of her black and white TV every Saturday and watch professional wrestling. It's the closest she ever got to the theatre and actors.
Now you can see the world of wrestling in the form of Kristoffer Diaz's "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity," a tongue-in-cheek, allegorical look at the "sport" through the eyes of one Mace Guerra (Jo-an Peralta), a wrestler whose job it is to make his opponents look good.
Peralta is on stage through most of the two-act play, charged with the responsibility of "telling the story." Director Josh Short has used the immense Butcher Block Mill space to stage the play, with an actual wrestling ring serving as the centerpiece.
There are chairs circling the ring, a stage at far right with a long aisle for the "Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity," the star who is a better actor than wrestler. But then, it is Mace's job to make him look good. That's the importance of acting in wrestling.
Short uses three huge screens, courtesy of Visual Media Designer Michael Commendatore, to enhance the elaborate production. On the surface this is a sometimes out of control, in-your-face production, with lots of noise and oratory. Guerra has a ton of fast-paced dialogue, delighting the audience with his analysis of the action and background material on wrestling. He knows his role, challenges given to him by EKO, the sleazy manager of THE Wrestling (not sure what THE stands for). Vince Petronio plays the role to the hilt, tossing around politically incorrect ethnic slurs like bodies in the ring.
Mace introduces his pal, VP, (Benjamin Gracia) to EKO, who turns him into a stereotypical terrorist. Every wrestler must have their own persona. Gracia is a fast talking (sometimes too fast) bundle of energy and had the press night crowd roaring over his antics.
The first act drags a bit, and you wonder at times what the point to all this is, but stick around for the second act, which is as wild and crazy as the weird world of wrestling.
The ropes go up during intermission, and we are treated to an up close look of very realistic wrestling moves, including a number of body slams that will make you cringe for the poor actors who actually took wrestling lessons.
Stuart Wilson plays three different wrestlers that VP faces before the big bout with Chad Deity (Amos Hendrick). We won't tell you what happens, but be prepared for some real action.
"The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" is as outlandish and outrageous as professional wrestling. It is bigger than life and twice as crazy. The playwright's notes talk about the metaphors of achieving your dream and then finding out it is not all that you imagined and finding the job you love in spite of a boss you hate.
And yes, it is about race and stereotypes and marketing a product (phony acting). But most of all, it is outrageously hilarious entertainment.
"The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" is at Wilbury Theatre in the spacious Butcher Block Mill, 25 Eagle St. in Providence through February 9 at 7:30 p.m. Call 400-7100 for tickets.