The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, presented by barebones productions, is a play that desperately wants to be a movie. Not merely because of the live and recorded video projections thrown onto screens above the stage throughout the show, but because of the way Kristoffer Diaz has written this 2009 work. In this mash-up of the films Rocky and The Wrestler, Diaz uses his characters, especially Mace (Gil Perez-Abraham), to narrate events as they are unfolding. This is an effective cinematic device, but unsuited to theater, as it constantly freezes the action, literally, and kills the energy of an otherwise ebullient production.
Mace, a sincere but opportunistic Puerto Rican wrestler, is the only character who is not a caricature in this comedy, which tries to send up the scam pro-wrestling industry, but is really a didactic metaphor for commercial entertainment in America. He works for unctuous promoter Everett K. Olson (Patrick Jordan) as a professional fall guy, hired to make other performers look good in staged matches.
Jordan, who is also the director, shrewdly gilds the intensity by interspersing live-camera, microphone and musical effects — which does whip up the audience. It’s crass excitement, just as the wrestlers are crass showmen, projecting cliché personae such as the “good” Billy Heartland (Jared Bajoras), and the “bad” Fundamentalist (Nicola Slade). They, and Javon Johnson, as Chad Deity, are utterly convincing in their beefy roles.
Thanks to consultant Shane Douglas, the wrestling scenes, complete with body slams and rope moves, are brilliantly performed, and fascinating to watch. (The play is staged in the gym of East Liberty’s Ace Hotel.) But the dialogue is shallow and hyperbolic, while the narration becomes so tedious that one viewer had to shout “louder!” to rouse an actor from the lethargy of his monologue.
This show is good, boisterous fun, and perhaps that’s all it’s meant to be. The audience seemed to enjoy it as only a weekend crowd allowed to drink in their seats can, laughing a bit too quickly at the white-guilt jokes and booing the bad guys. But as Mace finally says, “I should just stop tryin’ to narrate, right?” If only the playwright had listened to his character.