‘Chad Diety’ will Enthral Most while Enriching All

'The Champ' makes his elaborate entrance; Chad Deity as portrayed by Kamal Bolden

Among the opening scenes of ‘The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety’ there is an interaction between a young Macedonio ‘(not yet) The Mace’ Guerra and his grandfather. The grandfather can see, even as a boy, that Macedonio has found his passion. Flash forward a bit and adult Macedonio attempts to explain this love of professional wrestling, suggesting that underneath the various taunts and bouts of muscle-flexing, that there exists a perfect platform (albeit over-the-top) for telling larger-than-life stories with larger-than-life effectiveness. Having premiered this past weekend at Actors Theater of Louisville and continuing through Feburary 4th, this Pulitzer Prize nominated wrestling comedy/ racial perception exploring ‘elbowdrop-drama’ demonstrates that playwright Kristoffer Diaz holds similar passion for not just the ring but the stage as well, as he employs the two in tandem to deliver thought-provoking hilarity and surprisingly raw heart matched with ‘defense-lowering’ action/entertainment providing for fun and non-theater accessibility to spare.

In addition to adoring wrestling and his job as a pro-wrestler, the Bronx-born Puerto Rican Macedeonia Guerra (Alex Hernandez) is also incredibly talented. His problem is that within ‘The Wrestling’, America’s most popular pro-wrestling federation, that ‘skill’ and ‘being a successful wrestler’ are two different things. Lacking the lovable swagger and bulging muscles of champions like Chad Diety (Kamal Boldin), ‘The Mace’ has been relegated to the role of perennial loser/bad guy, all the while using his unsung talents to allow for otherwise terrible opponents to body slam him with style. Mace remains unenthusiastically content with this status quo until his discovery of what he immediately recognizes as ‘the future of wrestling entertainment (and perhaps the world)’ in the form of Indian-American Brooklynite Vignesh Paduar (Ramiz Monsef), whose hip-hop spitting, lady wooing, multicultural, multilingual, multi-eveyrthing persona is so compelling that Mace’s brothers remark they would actually pay just to see him. Unfortunately (yet again) for Guerra, ‘The Wrestling’ CEO Everett K. Olson (Lou Sumrall) isn’t nearly so instanly smitten with this skinny kid who is, “brown, but not brown like you,” that is until his mass-market-mind hits upon the perfect idea: VP as a fury-driven Islamic extremist and Mace as his Mexican revolutionary manager. Mace is immediately turned off by the inflammatory nature of the stereotypes, but having already tasted the smallest morsel of his potential fame, it’s VP that makes the call to go into the ring.

Mace and VP starring down the competition as in-ring evil-doers

Scenes in ‘The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety’ are done minimally, with very little accompanying the handful of actors on stage other than a couple wheeled office chairs in which Everett K. Olson and Diety are frequently seated and a certain red wrestling ring that makes its appearance in the second act. Other touches come in the form of four plasma screens used to show live video feed of characters (as they are filmed by on-stage cameramen), additional cast members placed in the audience to heckle and otherwise bring the crowd into the experience, and of course, the titular ‘elaborate entrances’ which are too much fun to spoil. Director KJ Sanchez is tackling the first production of ‘Chad Diety’ done ‘in the round’ and it comes off as a natural fit. The wrestling scenes in of themselves (choreographed by real-life pro Al Snow) easily justify the 360 degree perspective, but with whirling cast members and a narrative that takes the liberty of frequently spilling over into the audience, it is difficult to imagine this material done any other way.

While Kamal Bolden’s Chad Diety is ultimately not the piece’s main character, he is undoubtedly its most thunderously dynamic, and it is clear that Bolden is having an absolute blast embodying our mohawk-sporting, fast-talking, money-tossing champ. Lou Sumrall is likewise instantly infectious as the cigar-weilding CEO whose brain is so plugged in to the primetime TV machine that he is downright impressive in his aptitude for concocting mashed-up and utterly cringeworthy stereotype-monstronsities, and delivering them without even the suggestion of a flinch. Amidst the boisterousness of Bolden and Sumrall it is Hernandez as Mace and Monsef as VP who are doing the heavy lifting, both dramatically and in the ring. Monsef passes the hurdle of selling the initial frenzied appeal of VP with ease and his later scenes as a humus-bearing insurgent, not to mention the startlingly emotional outbursts to follow, are undeniably enthralling (and hilarious in the case of the former). But it’s truly Alex Hernandez who steals the show, and most impressively so given that he joined the cast little more than a week ago. From his early monologue detailing a love of wresting to an early hesitancy to accept the terms of a potentially pride-wounding deal, not to mention his recurring role as an on-stage narrator, Hernandez is most often relied upon for establishing the context of a given scene, and in this role alongside just about every other he excels.

Cigar in hand, office chair in tow, and personal assistant five steps away; Lou Sumrall as Everett K. Oslon

The effectiveness of ‘The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety’ lies in its ability to seamlessly disarm its audience by cloaking its social observations in the no-so-subtle boots of pro-wrestling, and yet its moments of true genuis come when characters then break through the previously established wall with acts of pure, emotional outburst. This ability, combined with fantastic chemistry amidst cheek-soring humor and awesome action means that ‘Chad Diety’ might just expand your definition of what a play can be, and what one can be capable of. At the very least you’ll adore it’s often slide-splitting sense of humor, its honest and immensely effective attempt at tackling social issues key to the next American century, and perhaps even come to appreciate just what it is that creator, cast and crew love so much about these seemingly disparate mediums.

Information on tickets and times available via Actors’ website.

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Chris Ritter <<<<<< twitter.com/CT_Smash <<<<<< ctsmash@gmail.com