It’s a perfect twist of irony — or is it serendipity? — that Miami New Drama debuted its production of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity the same weekend Donald Trump has taken on Jay-Z and is preparing for his first State of the Union Address. A rollicking, hilarious, kinetic farce, Chad Deity — a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama written by Glow creator Kristoffer Diaz — is the perfect funhouse mirror image of the MAGA mania in which America is embroiled. And Miami New Drama’s production proves that though the play is nearly a decade old, it still resonates today. It’s also an entertaining evening at the theater.
Set in the garish and raucous world of professional wrestling, Chad Deity is an ethnological fable wrapped in a flashy parable told through the eyes of narrator Macedonio “Mace” Guerra, portrayed with ardent passion by the magnetic Pierre Jean Gonzalez. Mace is a wrestler of Puerto Rican descent who is always relegated to playing the fall guy to the match’s hero — the titular Chad Deity, played marvelously cartoonish with an Apollo Creed-on-acid bravado by the talented Garrett Turner. But as Mace explains, it’s the fall guy who makes each and every match: He knows how to properly take a punch, how to fall down and sell the pain, and is the only reason Deity’s signature move — the Power Bomb — is a crowd favorite, all while Deity gets to sashay around the canvas with a dumb grin on his face and a championship belt around his waist. Guys like Deity have the charisma, but guys like Mace are the engines who make it all go.
Yet as the play schools the audience on how pro wrestling operates behind the scenes, and how Mace — an old-school wrestling purist — grew into his role as perpetual foil, the message of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity emerges: Historically, pro wrestling has been rife with awful stereotypes and ignorant views on foreigners and immigrants while making millions of dollars for the powers-that-be — an ugly, distorted reflection of our nation.
At the center of the pro-wrestling circuit — a thing called the Wrestling, which undoubtedly doubles for the WWE — is Everett K. Olson, played as a smarmy ,sweaty amalgam of Trump and Vince McMahon by veteran character actor Todd Allen Durkin. E.K.O. is an empty suit who radiates boorish ignorance and oozes a crude lust for the bottom line through racist-colored lenses. When Mace introduces E.K.O. to a potential future star wrestler of Indian descent, Olson sees only a guy with brown skin and immediately casts the kid as a Muslim extremist character he dubs the Fundamentalist. Along the way, Mace reminds the audience of every time pro wrestling has exploited America’s ugly enmity toward “the other” in real life. Think of every time the WWE has trotted out offensive ethnic and racially stereotyped characters and “enemies of freedom,” such as the Iron Sheik, Kamala the Ugandan Giant, and Soviet villain Nikolai Volkoff, not to mention the way the company has woefully ignored Mexico’s historic contribution to wrestling with lucha libre and its masked warriors.
The story takes a predictable turn when the Fundamentalist, played with nefariously exaggerated glee by Raji Ahsan, begins his professional run by fighting stalwart All-American characters Old Glory and Billy Heartland, both played by the versatile Jamin Olivencia, and debuts his own signature move — a disabling swift kick to the opponent’s face called the Sleeper Cell. The stereotype is created to elicit hate from the masses and to set up a showdown for the title with Deity, all while E.K.O., clad in his xenophobia, overly long red necktie, and red baseball cap similar to the ones worn by a certain leader of the free world, rakes in the dough. Yet as Mace figuratively wrestles with the ugly truth of his beloved sport’s overt racism, his Indian counterpart begins to fray at the seams and wonders if the fortune and glory he’s earned playing this cartoonish version of Osama bin Laden is worth it.
In the middle of it all is Chad Deity, who is caught in E.K.O.’s web of wealth and betrayal of morals, seduced by the power that big-money pro wrestling generates through vulgar displays of stereotypes. Making it tougher to take is the fact that Deity is an African-American named Darnel, who is seemingly oblivious to his rich white boss’ profane exploitation of skin color and ignorance of Middle America’s attitudes toward other cultures and ethnicities.
At the end of the day, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is a comedy dressed in all of Hulk Hogan’s gaudy, gold-plated dreams that looks to lay out America’s complex relationship with not only “the other” but also our attitude toward the mechanisms that enable these kinds of things to thrive. The comedic banter among the characters, Mace’s droll narration, and the ego-soaked strutting of Deity are on full display in the spotlight, while the ugly truth lingers beneath the surface until it hits the audience like a proverbial metal chair to the back of the head. As with all good satire, Chad Deity deftly toes the line between absurdity and reality.
The real strength of Chad Deity, aside from a ridiculously talented cast, is in its brilliant and elaborate set, designed by Broadway veteran Tim Mackabee. The Colony Theatre has been transformed into a pro-wrestling arena, complete with blinding floodlights, dual jumbotrons that display the wrestling characters in real time, and a real wrestling ring where the actors take part in actual matches. Though the play suffers a bit from its lengthy run time of nearly two hours, it moves at a fast clip via creative stage blocking and rapid-fire wardrobe changes. Director Jen Wineman has cleverly made a bombastic stage play and bulky set work seamlessly within the Colony’s intimate confines. The limited space forces the audience to be a part of the story, which makes the play all the more entertaining, immersive, and fun.
Chad Deity leaves a bit to be desired in terms of character development and growth. The Fundamentalist’s grappling with conscience and moment of clarity make him the only complex and interesting character in the story. I, for one, wished more could have been done with Deity's character arc that would be essential to the overall point of the play.
Still, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity’s message remains clear: In Trump’s America, as in pro wrestling, there are good guys and there are bad guys. It’s up to us to decide for whom to stand up and cheer.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. Thursday, January 25, through Sunday, February 18, at the Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-674-1040; colonymb.org. Tickets cost $30 to $59; opening-night tickets cost $100.
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