Jonald Jude Reyes is a Writer, Performer & Director in Chicago, IL. His works have been performed in various theaters city-wide, including Stage 773, The Annoyance, and The Second City. In 2016, he was named Best of Stage Director by the Chicago Reader and was selected to the DirectorsLabChicago program. Learn more at http://www.jonaldjude.com.
Pictured: Semaj Miller. Photo by M. Freer Photography.
By Jonald Jude Reyes
Do you remember Hulk Hogan? Not the recent version who battled online media websites about leaked sex tapes, but the 80’s icon who battled bad guys like the Iron Sheik on his own Saturday morning cartoon? How about Terry Gene Bollea – do you know who he is? He had his own band in the late 70’s called Ruckus and he used to workout at a gym where a lot of professional entertainment wrestlers worked out. The wrestlers persuaded Terry to try wrestling and after he quit his band, he decided to focus on it. 10 years later, he helped create a phenomenon known as Hulkamania.
THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY presented by Red Theater Chicago, is the story of what we see behind the wrestling ring curtain. Beyond that facade of a wrestler getting to the ring with energetic music, indoor pyrotechnics, and a boisterous, cocky strut is a person who grew up knowing about entertainment wrestling and being fascinated with the world created by it. It’s Terry before he became the Hulk — in this story “Mace,” played by Alejandro Tey.
Once you walk into the Strawdog Theatre space, you walk into an entertainment wrestling event. Instead of a classical theater stage, you’re met with an actual wrestling ring. On the ring canvas is the logo of the producing company known as “The Wrestling,” and EKO (Mickey O’Sullivan) is walking around, meeting the audience and asking fans who their favorite wrestler is. EKO gets the crowd energized and welcomes their participation of cheers & boos throughout the play. This clever device acknowledges the transparency of the fourth wall, which will become essential as the play flips the theater audience into fans at a wrestling event and back.
After introductions and wrestling announcements are made, we’re suddenly met by a wrestler in a lucha libre mask. Lucha Libre is a form of professional wrestling developed in Mexico. The mask that the wrestlers wear are part of their wrestling persona. It’s like the yellow headband and tear away shirt of Hulk Hogan. The mask is slowly removed and Mace establishes himself as the narrator of this play. Tey is not only charismatic but very genuine in this performance. With the casual dialogue and personal storyline of his character, Tey is quite skilled at cultivating an intimate relationship with the audience.
As the story progresses, we’re met with other wrestlers and wrestling personalities including The Wrestling champion, Chad Deity (Semaj Miller). Miller plays up his confidence as Chad and takes the aforementioned cocky strut to another level. He’s a fan favorite, but behind the wrestling curtain he’s a company man that loves the money & fame and will do whatever it takes to keep those two a priority. Miller commits to this character earnestly, and even responding to an unprompted audience as Chad Deity would. There are times when Miller has opportunities to show more vulnerability, but the machismo and masculinity that embodies this wrestling world can be a strong enough challenge to continually commit.
Mace introduces his friend VP (Priyank Thakkar), and how cool of a person he is. So cool that he comes up with the idea that he should become a wrestler based on his personality without needing to know how to wrestle. Mace sells the idea to EKO, and once EKO is on board with the kind of character VP can play, the evil inner workings of The Wrestling company are revealed. Mickey O’Sullivan plays the villainous company man with strong conviction. It’s a bit offsetting when EKO delves into racial stereotypes that work for The Wrestling, but then again, it’s a reminder of how stereotypes were used during the 80s by the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). The storyline unpacks as we follow the wrestling personas building up to a pay-per-view event. Throughout we’re provided amazing athletics by these actors who show us actual wrestling matches in the ring.
As the play progresses between the wrestling world and the theater play, the shifts at times are a bit blurry but if you’re more familiar with wrestling (than theater) it may be clearer for you. THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE truly unravels the over masculinity and racial overtones in this industry and with no apology. Audiences should be ready for a raw display of how these wrestling personas are created and treated, but at the heart of the play, Mace continually brings honesty, and it can be difficult to swallow.
THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY runs through September 16th. For more information visit redtheater.org.