And in this corner: ‘Chad Deity’ wrestles with an American pastime
Kristoffer Diaz’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” a new production at Fresno City College, puts the spotlight on professional wrestling. But it’s more than just about throwing a few beefy college students into a ring and doing a wacky local version of a World Wrestling Entertainment event. This highly acclaimed drama, which wowed New York critics when it opened Off Broadway in 2010, is a deftly written, finely observed satirical tale about not only a widespread cultural phenomenon but also racism, multiculturalism and politics.
The show opens Friday, Nov. 2. Here are Five Things to Know:
It has a real wrestling ring.
Fresno City College is staging this production in the intimate Studio Theatre, so it’ll be like having a ringside seat. Director Charles Erven, who watched some professional wrestling on TV as a kid but was pretty much a neophyte when it came to today’s flashy entertainment, hired two local consultants to help the cast and crew achieve the look and feel of an authentic wrestling experience.
“I have learned more about professional wrestling than I ever wanted to know,” Erven says with a laugh.
It’s a very specific show to cast.
Erven had wanted to do “Chad Deity” for several years, but he waited until he had the right actors to cast. The play tells the story of a WWE-type organization led by a Vince McMahon-like figure who creates the hero-vs.-villain narratives that any professional wrestling fan knows and loves. The title character is a muscular African-American star with great charisma (but not a very good wrestler). The narrative focuses on the story of another wrestler named Mace, a Latino who is cast as a “jobber” in his matches, or someone paid to lose, even though he’s a good wrestler. When Mace teams up with an Indian-American wrestler named Vigneshwar Paduar (V.P.) to try to spark a new storyline, the racial politics get complicated when the wrestling execs insist they play “terrorists.”
The play was a finalist for a 2009 Pulitzer Prize.
Diaz, the playwright, also knows his wrestling: He was story editor for the acclaimed Netflix series “GLOW.” The New York Times described “Chad Deity” as having “the delicious crackle and pop of a galloping, honest-to-God, all-American satire.”
The Fresno City College production includes an illustrious former student.
It wasn’t so many years ago that the talented Mohammad Shehata was acting as a student on the City College stage. (He also represented FCC in 2013 at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in the criticism category). He went on to UC San Diego and then a busy career as a professional actor, including stints at the San Francisco Shakesepeare Festival, the Capitol Stage in Sacramento, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre and the Ubuntu Theater Project in Oakland.
Erven brought Shehata in as a guest artist to play the role of V.P. He knew it would be a great learning experience for his students. Erven raised funds to hire Shehata by doing a benefit performance of his original play “Baggage Check” at the start of the semester.
Seats are limited.
There are only 75 seats available for each performance. This isn’t a show you want to wander up five minutes before curtain and try to buy. Book in advance. And a parental advisory: The rating is a hard R for language.
Karina C Balfour
Attended Opening night on Friday and left metaphorically wrestling with race and stereotypes in entertainment and when you take a step back and when you take a critical view who really is the good guy and the bad guy- the ones playing into these stereotype or those that perpetuate them? Diaz throws a lot of ideas at you in this show and leaves you with much to ponder and examine in our current world of entertainment. Go for the thought provoking ideas, go for the amazing and impressive wrestling moves and go to cheer on or boo whomever you decide are the good guys and bad guys.
Compelling story telling that provokes and illuminates. The production values are truly impressive and the performances give you something to think about long after the final
bell has rung. It makes you think about how we decide who is the bad guy and who the good. How do we find our voices and tell our stories when someone else holds the microphone. Chad Deity explores all these ideas and more and manages to be at LEAST as entertaining as any wrestling match I’ve ever seen.