Macedonia Guerra is living the dream. For him, this means regularly sacrificing his ego to making somebody else look good. But Guerra is not a masochist, he's an artist. It just happens that the canvas of his art form is that squared circle where outsized egos pummel, slam, and crush lesser beings, all in glorious high definition pay-per-view. Welcome to the artist's studio — the world of pro wrestling.
PURE Theatre opens their 10th anniversary season with the regional premiere of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, Kristoffer Diaz's satirical body slam on the American Dream. In Chad Deity, the rags to riches myth is fueled by testosterone, over-the-top marketing, and slick, "give the public what it wants" adherence to the lowest common denominator. Even if your only exposure to pro wrestling is limited to quickly channel surfing past it, you'll be caught up by this solid production which is less about gaudy masks, mayhem, and money than it is about heart and integrity and finding one's way in the world.
The way Macedonio "Mace" Guerra (City Paper contributor Michael Smallwood) explains it, pro wrestling is a collaborative art. "You can't kick somebody's ass without help from the guy whose ass you're kicking," he says. It's a risky gig, no doubt, but the "power-bombs," drop-kicking, and trash-talking all serve one clear goal — to slam home the narrative. Good triumphs over evil. Take that to the bank. And it seems like everyone in this "sport" does.
Take promoter Everett K. Olson (Josh Wilhoit), EKO for short. He's a businessman. A realist, he'd say. Wilhoit manages to transform Olson into a nearly lovable guy even though his character's passion is limited to one dimension — that fat bottom line. Not a showman himself, EKO relies on charismatic narcissists like his champion, Chad Deity (Christian Duboise), to light up the stage and the pathway to riches. Everyone has their part in keeping the money machine chugging along, even stereotype wrestling characters like Billy Heartland (Charlie Thiel) who doesn't say a whole lot but more than makes up for that with the exquisite agonies he delivers in the ring and even while rolling out of it, smack onto a concrete floor.
This wondrously profitable eco-system gets blind-sided when Guerra brings Vigneshwar Paduar (Eric Doucette) into the fold. Doucette's Paduar is as slick as they come, a street-wise player whose own friends declare they would pay to see him do what comes naturally to him — charm-hustle his way into anything that captures his fancy. Women, pick up basketball games, you name it. Guerra sees Paduar's potential and realizes that managing him as a wrestler would not only elevate his own status to management level but also smack down the cartoonish racial and ethnic stereotypes of his beloved profession.
But after a promising start, everything that could go wrong, does. Guerra finds himself caught between the honorable apprenticing traditions of the wrestling community and the crass, "if the audience buys it, we'll sell it" mindset of his bosses. Rookie Paduar bites the hand that feeds him, it seems, simply because he can get away with it. Moral dilemma? In wrestling? You bet.
Director Sharon Graci and her cast have a field day with Chad Deity, delivering solid performances and unexpectedly heart-tugging moments. Wilhoit's Olson is just brash enough to make you want to smack him. Duboise makes you envy his character's refrigerator. (Don't ask.) Both Smallwood (who, as principal narrator, really does do the "heavy-lifting" here) and Doucette, make us believe that one powerfully true story can sustain a good life, no matter what you do for a living.
And while we're not likely to pony up for pay-per-view wrestling any time soon just because Chad Deity won us over, we do appreciate PURE Theatre going to the mat for its audience.