You don’t have to like wrestling to love “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” which gives audiences a ringside seat for the faked fights, outsized rhetoric, and improbably named icons of America’s favorite sports-entertainment hybrid.
Kristoffer Diaz’s visceral satire, currently making its Bay Area premiere at the Aurora Theatre Co., brings big-time wrestling onstage in eminently theatrical style.
But smackdowns, macho heroes and bikini-clad babes are just the setting for this serious play – a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize – about a corrupt mega-business that profits from people’s deepest prejudices.
In Diaz’s fictional wrestling federation, owner Everett “EKO” Olson (the excellent Rod Gnapp) banks on stars chosen less for their athletic prowess than their ability to inflame a crowd.
The federation’s reigning king is Chad Deity (Beethovan Oden), a seasoned pro at whipping fans into a frenzy (his first appearance, costumed in Maggie Whitaker’s bling-laden costume, is a show-stopper.)
But the story is narrated by Macedonio “Mace” Guerra (Tony Sancho), a Bronx-born Puerto Rican. Mace has big dreams, but he’s only in the ring to absorb Deity’s signature bodybombs.
Mace is OK with being “the guy who loses to make the winners look good” – until VP Paduar (Nasser Khan), enters the game. The enterprising Indian-American doesn’t know much about wrestling, but he wants to be a star, and Olson presents him as a Muslim terrorist named “The Fundamentalist.”
VP becomes an overnight sensation – while Mace is relegated to the sidelines, wearing a sombrero. It’s a nightmare of xenophobic stereotyping, and the audience eats it up.
“Chad Deity” begins to repeat itself in the second act, and its ending doesn’t satisfy.
But the cast members inhabit their roles with tremendous vigor. Sancho is an eloquent, appealing Mace, and Gnapp gives Olson an aptly predatory edge. Khan projects easy charisma as VP, and Oden nails the title role. Dave Maier – who is also the show’s fight director – plays various opponents in the ring.
Director Jon Tracy and his design team evoke the wrestling world in broad strokes – designers Cliff Caruthers (sound) and Kurt Landisman (lighting) deserve special credit for sensory overload, and Whitaker’s costumes let the players strut their stuff in style.
Nina Ball’s set – a lifelike wrestling ring backed by giant screens – seems to fill every corner of the theater. The Aurora has squeezed big sets into its small space before, but this one represents one of the company’s most impressive creations.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Where: Aurora Theatre , 2081 Addison St. , Berkeley
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 30
Tickets: $32 to $50
Contact: (510– 843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org