Professional wrestling is fake. It’s predictable. It substitutes preset spectacle for actual conflict. Well, so does theater. And Nuyorican wrestler The Mace, the hero of Kristoffer Diaz’s body-slamming new play, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, recognizes the parallel: “Don’t dismiss my art form on the basis of it being predetermined,” he says, “unless you’re ready to dismiss ballet for the swan already knowing it’s gonna end up dead.”
Don’t dismiss Diaz, either. His language is overblown, his pop-culture references exhausting, and his comprehensive knowledge of wrestling suggests a wildly misspent youth. But his hyperactive prose dazzles, and there are some very clever ideas—about race, about cultural hegemony, about narrative—nestled just underneath that sparkle.
Set behind the scenes of THE Wrestling Federation, the play—a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer—follows The Mace (Desmin Borges) as he discovers an Indian kid from Brooklyn, Vigneshwar Paduar (Usman Ally), and attempts to make him a star. The Mace succeeds, but at some cost. V.P. is newly dubbed “The Fundamentalist” and garbed in a false beard and turban, while The Mace becomes “Che Chávez Castro,” a sneering sombrero-clad villain. These are the heels against whom the Federation’s all-American star, the immoderately muscled Chad Deity (Terence Archie), must triumph. Can fame and a fat paycheck quiet The Mace’s conscience?
Under Edward Torres’s exuberant direction, all the actors acquit themselves well, several sporting biceps larger than apartments I’ve lived in. But Borges—loquacious, mercurial, and likely possessed of some serious ADD—wins the championship belt. Bouncing around the stage in distressingly tight pants, he crams more words into a sentence than one would have believed possible. The program lists Chad Deity as his New York theater debut. How about that? First time in the ring, and the kid knocks everybody out.