Wrestling with stereotypes
by Miles Howard
| July 09, 2012
Televised wrestling is rich pop-cultural terrain, a world that has yielded a wealth of curious characters, from the one-man brand Hulk Hogan to the Slim Jim-snapping Randy Savage. But dramatic portrayals of wrestling are usually less compelling than the real thing (probably because the sport is already an exercise in savvy scripting). Case in point: Jack Black’s cinematic stink bomb Nacho Libre, which left us with spandex-clad nightmares and little interest in re-entering the ring. But this month, Boston’s Company One offers an artful exploration of televised wrestling with The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, a comedy from playwright Kristoffer Diaz that promises to skewer racial caricatures, steroid-riddled athletes, and whimsical notions of the American Dream.
At the heart of the melee is Puerto Rican wrestler Macedonio Guerra (Ric Engermann). He’s formidable, but he doesn’t approach the brawny authority of the game’s top gladiator, Chad Deity (Chris Leon). Insecure and desperate to dent that champion’s dominion, Guerra plucks a charismatic Indian-American kid named Vigneshwar Paduar (Jake Athyal) from the streets of Brooklyn and grooms him to take Deity down. But Guerra’s boss, in the interest of generating audience-grabbing melodrama, suddenly decides to reinvent Paduar as a gleefully offensive Arab-world antagonist called “The Fundamentalist” — complete with fake beard. Guerra’s plan spirals out of control, and meditations on racial stereotypes, globalization, and the manipulative ways of the American media ensue.
Subtlety may not exist within the wacky world of Chad Deity — but then, it’s not present in the real wrestling world that Diaz satirizes. Well before popular WWE “bad guy” John Layfield started goose-stepping and heil-ing around the ring in 2004, the sport had often served up embarrassing displays of stereotypes. (We’re looking at you, Iron Sheik.) The medium remains ripe for roasting, and critics have championed Diaz’s comic take on America’s most over-the-top sport. Chad Deity was named the Best New American Play at the 2011 Obie Awards, and it snagged a Pulitzer nomination to boot — no small accomplishment for a play punctuated by body slams. Behold every bone-crunching headlock during Company One’s production, which runs from July 28 through August 25 at the BCA’s Calderwood Pavilion (527 Tremont Street, Boston, 617.426.5000). For tickets ($15–$42) and show times, visit companyone.org.