TKO Company One's Chad Deity is a larger-than-life, lowest-common-denominator allegory that
demonstrates the bone-bruising effectiveness of its fight fakery.
The old actors' adage "Break a leg" does not seem an apt shout-out to the intrepid cast of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (presented by Company One at the Calderwood Pavilion through August 25). "Don't break a back" might be a more appropriate good-luck greeting to the perpetrators of this "smackdown of a play" set in the hyperbolic, hate-mongering world of pro wrestling. After intermission, when the ropes go up and the bodies start slamming down in Kristoffer Diaz's Obie-winning satire, the Company One production resonates as effectively as combat as it does as theater. The result is a scathing if hardly subtle allegory that lampoons the larger-than-life, lowest-common-denominator personae of pro wrestling even as it demonstrates the bone-bruising effectiveness of its fight fakery.
Of course, Chad Deity is not just about wrestling, however popular that elaborately plotted, highly choreographed combination of melodrama, spectacle, and sport may be. The play's THE, a thinly veiled stand-in for World Wrestling Entertainment, is a metaphor for the USA, where racial stereotyping and audience manipulation are also touchstones and cash is likewise king. The play, says its author, is "about what happens when we get lost in the flash." He adds, "It's also a pretty straightforward story about a guy who has a dream job, realizes there are a lot of problems with it, and has to decide whether to rock the boat."
The guy with the dream job is the play's ripped and garrulous narrator, Macedonio Guerra, also known as The Mace. Growing up in the Hulk Hogan era of the 1980s, Mace fell in love with Saturday-morning televised wrestling, which he regards as an "art form" — a cathartic illusion much like opera or theater. Now he's a "jobber" whose function is to take the falls that make champ Chad Deity — a less godly than nationalist icon, his elaborate entrances accompanied by rains of dollar bills — look lethal. But when Mace becomes the manager of a charismatic Indian kid named Vigneshwar Paduar — whom smarmy THE promoter Everett K. Olson decides to promote as a stony Muslim threat known as The Fundamentalist — neither Mace nor his protégé finds himself able to be blinded to the business's ethnic-flame-fanning.
That doesn't keep director Shawn LaCount's tongue-in-cheek, bodies-to-the-mat staging from doling out the dazzle. Video promos flash on either side of the ring, along with projections of dancing girls in full Hooters mode or "designer burkas." Wrestlers with simplistic made-up monikers like The Bad Guy, Billy Heartland, and Old Glory (all played by Framingham State University student and professional wrestler Mike Webb) strut their stuff and take their amplified falls. And with the exception of unflappable Peter Brown as money-smelling THE promoter Olsen, whose major muscle is his opportunistic brain, the performers display both thespian and wrestling chops, putting across some heady ideas while bouncing one another loudly about.
Ricardo Engermann, as the passionate if ultimately burned-out keeper of the flame Mace, is the acrobatic, articulate soul of the production, leaping high ropes as fleetly as he does Mace's arguments for wrestling as collaborative and profound. As Chad Deity, in skimpy gold Spandex, shades, and a championship belt that looks like it weighs 100 pounds, Chris Leon is all cockiness and God-bless-America trash talk. And Jake Athyal is both smugly likeable as Vigneshwar Paduar and hilariously frozen as The Fundamentalist. You have to give credit to wrestling trainer Brian Phillips, who has taught these well-conditioned guys the moves that keep them out of the hospital while appearing to send one another there. But in this show the performances are as grand as the slams.