In The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, larger-than-life figures emerge from darkness into the theater. The music booms, the costumes are flamboyant, and the entertainers gyrate their way to the stage. This is the start to a…wrestling match?
Playwright Kristoffer Diaz brings Woolly audiences into this fantastical world. Diaz creates superstars like Chad Deity and The Fundamentalist and Old Glory; outside the theater, it is a world inhabited by professional wrestling icons like John Cena and The Great Khali and Vince McMahon.
Professional wrestling has a long and storied history. It originated in the early 19th century, as a sideshow in vaudeville halls and travelling circuses. Wikipedia defines it as a “spectacle combining athletics and theatrical performance.” In 1989, McMahon admitted that the World Wrestling Federation, which he owns (now known as World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE), scripted its matches and had predetermined outcomes to its bouts.
So is wrestling real?
It is clear, to even the most casual observers, that an evening watching professional wrestling will bear little resemblance to an Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling competition. However, as an industry, professional wrestling extends far beyond the United States. It is big business in Mexico, where masked fighters compete in the Lucha Libre style of wrestling. It is also popular in Japan and in many smaller organizations stateside.
WWE is the unquestioned industry leader; it is the head of a billion dollar industry, and a publicly traded organization. Its top stars are paid millions annually, and WWE performers are in the ring for hundreds of shows each year.
Professional wrestling is also an industry where the audience expects to experience a level of brutality. In the clip below, a “hardcore” match between two WWE stars, wrestler Ric Flair is slammed repeatedly with a bed full of barbed wire. Internationally, Japanese promotions are known for staging particularly vicious fights; this includes the “Piranha Deathmatch”, where barbed wire boards are placed in the corners, and to win, you must hold your opponent in a tank full of piranhas for ten seconds. The fish in these matches are not toys, and Ric Flair is actually getting slammed into real metal spikes. Does that count as real?
This fierce reality certainly has an impact on its participants. Adam Copeland, known in wrestling circles as Edge, was forced to retire in 2011 as a result of a spinal injury sustained while wrestling. Owen Hart, a Canadian professional wrestler, fell to his death in 1999 as he was being lowered, via harness, into a wrestling ring. And in 2007, wrestler Chris Benoit was found dead, after having committed a double murder and suicide. Widespread reports later indicated that Benoit, who often ended matches by jumping off the 10-foot wrestling ring rope and ramming his head into opponents’ chests, was suffering from a severe case of brain damage.
One of the most telling moments in Chad Deity comes at the close of the show. Our narrator, Macedonio “Mace” Guerra, is no longer talking. We have been told that he can be a great wrestler, and he just wants to win one bout. And now, in his role as super-villain Che Chavez Castro, he finally has a shot to succeed.
In the closing moments, Mace has a moment of realization. He rips off his costume and speaks passionately as himself, and not as an amalgamation of three radically different Latino historical figures. We, the audience, believe in Mace—as he is, not as the villainous caricature. Yet moments later, Macedonio Guerra loses to Chad Deity in “record time.”
This conclusion is a reminder that Chad Deity is a play about wrestling. It’s a play that (like a WWE match) features athleticism, sportsmanship, and a scripted ending. And as the story ends, with an inspired Mace losing in historic fashion, the crowd is left to wonder; is Mace’s passion for wrestling real? Or is his passion just another piece of spectacle for all of us? Mace undoubtedly feels real and honest; and the more real that his actions appear to the crowd, the more we want it to be real.
– Eric Colchamiro, Woolly Claque member