Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
November 8, 2013
What’s your signature taunt? And what’s your finish? Every wrestler has them, as well as a killer name.
You learn all this, and much more, in the smashing production of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” a 2010 Pulitzer finalist by Kristoffer Diaz, currently having its West coast premiere at ion theatre. Chad Deity may be the world champion, he may get the best entrance, but this isn’t his story. It’s the underdog, the also-ran, who gets the first and last word. And boy, are those words a knockout.
The play is a sharp, smart hilariously word-drunk political farce of sorts, using the wild world of pro wrestling to throw the American Dream on the mat. For all its histrionics, professional wrestling is a roped-off realm where two men work in concert so the winner looks good and the loser doesn’t get hurt. It’s all about community. But behind the scenes, in creating oversized, hyperbolic characters audiences can either love or hate, stereotypes are seriously exploited, as our voluble narrator, Macedonio Guerro , AKA The Mace, explains.
Mace just wants to tell a good story. He wants to celebrate his ‘artform.’ He doesn’t care that his job, which he happens to love, means he does the “heavy lifting” but never wins. He may be a loser in the ring, but he is one kick-ass mentor and guide. Wrestling, you see, is athletic theatrics; no less fore-ordained than the death of the balletic bird in “Swan Lake,” we’re told.
The linguistically dazzling playwright has America in his sights, and in the ring that dominates the stage, he has a chokehold on our culture: its amorality, hypocrisy and commercialism; its caste system when it comes to whites vs. people of color; and of course, who winds up on top and how. The play is quirky, quick-witted and politically savvy, so brilliantly hyperverbal that you want to sit down with the text and pore over every drop of the cascading, multilingual waterfall of words.
Under the fast-paced, astute direction of Claudio Raygoza and Catalina Maynard, a superb, buff, highly physical cast power-slams the language as much as each other.
Steven Lone is terrifically nimble, verbally and physically, as The Mace. Vimel Sephus nails the swaggering bravado of the soulless, garbage-spewing champ. Jake Rosko is spot-on as the racist, bone-headed boss-man. And as Mace’s discovery, a young Indian phenom, Keala Milles is marvelous, a real comic find. Evan Kendig provides excellent support as a number of muscle-bound challengers.
Though the ring takes center stage, neither the words nor the action of this play can be contained within any confining space. Diaz has an electrifying voice, and a distinctive perspective. ion’s fleet-footed, 100-minute production, featuring Karen Filijan’s stunning lighting and Mary Summerday’s super-cool costumes, is a walloping success – and a palpable hit.
“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” runs through November 16, at ion theatre, on the edge of Hillcrest.
©2013 PAT LAUNER