MENTAL CONTORTIONS Peralta and Gracia.
There's a terrific surprise awaiting theatergoers willing to venture beyond the usual Trinity and off-Trinity environs, into the outskirts of darkest Olneyville. The Wilbury Group is staging The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, by Kristopher Diaz (through February 9). Directed by Josh Short, it's one of those sought-out theater experiences in which a decent play is boosted into a great experience by a production that gets everything right and goes on to improve things from there. Casting, performances, staging — bing, bing, bing, bingo!
Don't be put off by this darkly funny tale being set in the world of professional wrestling — what could be more theatrical? So the wins are staged. As one of the characters remarks, you don't hate ballet because you know the swan is going to die. No, the payoff here isn't the suspense over the outcome but the mental contortions these people go through.
Wilbury has the perfect theater to make this real — it's a cavernous concrete space in a former mill building, so the actual wrestling ring used for the main stage looks right at home. During intermission the traditional orange ropes and turnbuckles are carefully rigged for Act Two, in which the padded canvas floor is put to wincifying use.
The title refers to the flamboyant way that world champion wrestler Deity (Amos Hamrick) enters the arena: grinning like a millionaire and tossing bills in the air like confetti as he slow-walks along in his gold chains and golden trunks. (We are told that he is accompanied by 10 or 20 equally celebratory young women in burqas, but we see them only in animated illustrations, small-theater budgets being what they are.)
The narrator is Macedonio "Mace" Guerra (Jo An Peralta), a six-packed wrestler who makes the slightly flabby Deity come across like an omnipotent god in the ring by letting Deity toss him around like a beanbag. Mace takes pride in knowing he's an excellent wrestler, which makes his having to play the trembling clown more painful than the body slams. He says that when you get really good, you can make "the guy who sucks" look good. But the tricky part is that: "The audience starts to think — guess what? You suck."
In the first act, we see some of those falls and holds projected in video clips on three screens. In the second, we witness some of the real thing; whatever Peralta is getting paid, he deserves a fat raise for getting bounced around. Same for Stuart Wilson, who plays Billy Heartland and flag-caped Old Glory, good guy stooges there to take punishment so wrestling audiences will more vehemently boo whatever bad guy fight manager Everett "EKO" Olsen (Vince Petronio) comes up with.
The latest hissable character is called the Fundamentalist, replete in villain-black cloak and turban, with poor Mace standing by as a mustachioed and bandoleroed Mexican bandito. (The manager is such a dunderhead that he thinks anything foreign sounding, whether the Koran or the Kabbalah, can equally stand for "enemy" to audiences.)