Stray Cat Theatre is following up its recent knock-out production of The Whale with a play that couldn't be more different from that intimate and absorbing drama of one man's personal journey. Set inside the world of professional wrestling, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz, a 2010 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is part satire and part comedy, with a touch of drama. It's rough and loud with body slams, kicks, knock-outs, and booming rock music galore—and a full-size wrestling ring where the Tempe Performing Arts Center stage used to be. With five more than capable actors portraying larger than life personalities, the production shows us a world we may not all be familiar with, through situations that are immediately identifiable.
Director Ron May has fortunately found five guys to bring these larger than life characters to life, all of whom easily come across as people you could actually see in a wrestling ring. Cisco Saavedra instils Mace with a sense of repressed struggle between the profession he loves and the constant battle against the negative words the people around him use and the stereotypical characters he is asked to play. Mace believes in the "art" of wrestling, something he's had a calling for since he was a kid. He understands that EKO is the boss so Mace needs to just keep his thoughts to himself, afraid that if he speaks what he is feeling it will cost him his job. Saavedra easily gets across Mace's struggle with subtle facial expressions and clenched teeth. Through Saavedra's performance we clearly see that Mace has seen too much and now has doubts.
Pasha Yamotahari instills Vigneshwar VP Paduar with so much humor and charisma, you can easily see how VP not only gets dates with just about every woman he meets but how easily he charms Mace and EKO. But Yamotahari also lets us see how the words and situations around him bring him to a breaking point, one that is the catalyst for Mace's internal conflict to finally be brought out into the open. VP is just as charismatic as Chad, though less skilled in the ring; Yamotahari makes a fine wiry wrestler and his trademark out of the blue "Sleeper Cell" kick gets a great delivery. Jeremy Gillett makes Chad a very charismatic man but one who is also extremely egotistical, continually referring to himself in the third person.
As EKO, Charles Campbell has nice comical skills. He is imposing but manages to bring an unexpected level of charm and even sweetness to the character. Campbell also provides the wrestling choreography for this production, the majority of which is displayed on pre-recorded video that is projected high above the stage. Campbell's 30-year career in the wrestling profession makes the wrestling moves—and the actors making them—look skilled and professional. Campbell himself shows some fine live moves that are just as impressive.
Keath David Hall easily brings three wrestling "hero" characters to life using the same type of stereotypical mannerisms and speech that EKO uses on the anti-American "villain" characters he makes Mace and VP portray. It is a perfect way for Diaz to show us how easily we as an audience can quickly identify with a character, whether in a positive or negative way, without knowing anything about the actual person.
Director May does an impressive job of getting his actors to show us the real people underneath the caricatures they play. He is also creative in the staging of the action, and there is a lot of it, along with using the entire theatre to stage the many "elaborate" entrances the wrestling characters make into the ring. Eric Beeck's inventive set design manages to surround the wrestling ring with two raised platforms and a series of steps that provide May with plenty of areas to create the various locations in the play. Daniel Chihuahua's costume designs are in line with the types of outfits the characters of professional wrestling wear, but also include some humorous ones for the crazy roles Mace and VP are forced to play. With the creative video projections and media design by Jesse Cabrera, Jeff A. Davis' rock star style lighting, Joey Trahan's clear and loud sound design, and that full-size wrestling ring, you feel many times as if you are at an actual wrestling match.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is thought provoking, entertaining and full of heart. It has a keen sense of showing us inside the world of professional wrestling, with its own version of theatricality and "characters" that are the backbone of the profession and the fans who love it. The Stray Cat production has a fine, game cast, assured direction and manages to be raucous entertainment even if Diaz doesn't quite find a way to fully wrap up the serious issues of stereotypes he brings up.
THIS IS AN ABRIDGED VERSION OF THE ORIGINAL REVIEW - READ IT IN ITS ENTIRETY BELOW
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity