note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Company One’s two-hour, two-act production of “Kristoffer Diaz’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” is NOT merely a play - it’s an all-encompassing,spectacular, real-life experience that sweeps the audience into it, ready or not. Even the printed program is snazzy.
A pre-show 10-minute brawl between two wrestlers is vital to this show’s introduction. It revs up theatergoers to a fevered pitch.
Jason Ries’ elaborate set and props, with the centrally-located, raised thrust stage, wrestling ring with the audience seated around it on three sides, is impressive. Huge monitors flash and blare designer Olivia Sebesky’s vibrant images, footage, headlines, and messages, while designer Jen Rock’s bright-colored, swirling spotlights rotate through the theater and Arshan Gailus’ authentic-sounding speaker announcements and crowd background yays and boos pump up patrons’ adrenaline.
Although the play is based on professional wrestling and its foibles, this isn’t fake stuff. The actors, who are also athletes, spent time training at a professional wrestling club, learning superkicks, powerbombs, and camel clutches, which are jaw-dropping.
Every bodyslam, kick and hold reverberates on the ropes and mat, sending shock waves through the screaming crowd.
In a post-show talkback, wrestling expert Sheldon Goldberg, owner of New England Champion Wrestling, applauded the actors, saying their moves and the play is as real as it gets. LaCount says these actors had to become professional wrestlers, not actors pretending to be wrestlers.
While training at the New England Professional Wrestling Academy, Company One’s star, Ricardo Engermann (who superbly portrays narrator-star Puerto Rican wrestler Macedonio “Mace” Guerra) was injured during training and rehearsal. Actors in the New York, Chicago and Los Angeles were, too, but they’ve all performed flawlessly, winning rave reviews.
Perpetual “champion” star wrestler, Chad Deity’s finisher signature move that ends his matches victoriously is the powerbomb, in which he pins his opponent’s head between his thighs, lifts him to his shoulders, then slams him on his back against the floor. Handsome, muscular actor Chris Leon portrays Deity --- a terrible wrestler with a gleaming persona.
Deity is the star because of his charisma, charm, and nonsensical, rah-rah American ramblings his fans love to hear, such as expounding on the importance of raisin bread. Leon exudes the elaborate pomp, bluster and super-ego of a wrestling hero, while Engermann as “Mace” is outstanding as the narrator and Deity’s jobber to the stars - the guy who loses and takes all the hits, to make Deity look good.
Mike Webb, a good-looking, actor, football player at Framingham State College, and professional wrestler, is engaging, likable, and realistic in his three roles as The Bad Guy, and America’s sweethearts, Billy Heartland and Old Glory.
And veteran, award-winning actor Peter Brown’s caricaturish moves as Everett K. Olson, THE-TV’s, wild-thinking, money-grasping promoter-producer, adds satiric levity to this flashy, gutsy production.
On a neighborhood Brooklyn basketball court, Mace finds another charismatic character of Indian descent, Vigneshwar Paduar (VP), whom he’s convinced he can train to unseat swaggering superego, Deity. Jake Athyal as Vigneshwar shines convincingly, especially when he refuses and rejects the ridiculousness and phoniness of Olson’s characterizations. He’s supposed to be a Fundamentalist Muslim, the wrestler the crowd’s primed to hate - the evil champion who takes down the mighty Chad Deity, and make millions for Olson and Company. But VJ has surprising moves of his own.
“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” is a Pulitzer finalist and Obie winner for Best American New Play, and it’s easy to see why. Its innovative presentation and underlying, bittersweet plot are marvelous, and Company One has gone all out to make this a spectacular, unforgettable experience. And you don’t have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy it.
Years ago, I once sat ringside, covering Golden Gloves boxing matches. When a boxer’s blood spattered the ring and one boxer sailed through the ropes and onto our desk, it was nerve-jarring. This sensational production rivals the real deal.
BOX INFO: Two-act play, presented by Company One, directed by Shawn LaCount, appearing through Aug. 25: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m., and on Aug. 25 at 4 p.m. only, at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Calderwood Pavilion, Roberts Theatre, 527 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Tickets: $38-$42; students with IDs, $15; seniors, $35-$38. Wild Wednesdays, all seats $20. Call the Box Office at 617-933-8600 or visit www.BostonTheatreScene.com. For more information, visit www.CompanyOne.org.