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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pulitzer-Nominated Play on Pro Wrestling Is a Slam

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 at 9:26 AM

click to enlarge The Mace (back, Tony Sancho) watches the elaborate entrance of fellow wrestler Chad Deity (Beethovan Oden) in the Bay Area premiere of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity - DAVID ALLEN
  • David Allen
  • The Mace (back, Tony Sancho) watches the elaborate entrance of fellow wrestler Chad Deity (Beethovan Oden) in the Bay Area premiere of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

Playwright Kristoffer Diaz says he can't get away with everything he wants after his play, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, was nominated for a Pulitzer. But it's pretty close.

"I'm working on a play now, and I want to have about 30 or 40 people the audience hasn't seen before come out on stage at the end," he said. "I'm not getting a yes, but I'm not getting laughed out of the room either."

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, opening at the Aurora Theatre on August 30, takes on pro wrestling, racism, and class. Staging it was challenging, Diaz said, but that's the play he was interested in writing. He says he has tried -- and failed -- to write what he calls "people on a couch" plays. He thinks audiences can connect to the spectacle of pro wrestling in the play.

"The first 12 minutes of the play are a monologue addressed to the audience, so that structure may be hard for people to wrap their heads around, but with wrestling, it's pretty hard to not get swept up," he said. "This is about a direct connection to the audience. It's not people sitting on couches with the fourth wall. It's like, we're all there in a space together and how can I make the audience enjoy this."

Diaz has loved pro wrestling since he was a little boy.

click to enlarge Wrestling promoter EKO (Rod Gnapp) lays out his version of the American Dream to VP and The Mace (Nasser Khan, Tony Sancho) - DAVID ALLEN
  • David Allen
  • Wrestling promoter EKO (Rod Gnapp) lays out his version of the American Dream to VP and The Mace (Nasser Khan, Tony Sancho)

"When you're a kid, you've never seen anything like it," he said. "These big, strong, muscular guys are like superheroes. Then as you get older it's about the competition, and when you're even older, you realize it's not a real competition, and it's about the storytelling. Sometimes it's ridiculous, but when they get it right, they get it really, really right."

One character who inspired him to write this play was the pro wrestler with the ring name Muhammad Hassan. He and his manager, Daivari, would talk about how things were for them as Middle Easterners after 9/11. They offered a complex view of how it was to be Muslim in America after the attacks on the World Trade Center, and this was a conversation not going on in the rest of popular culture, according to Diaz.

"It was a complex view of what was going on in post-9/11 America that wasn't happening anywhere in popular culture," Diaz said. "It was scary how much the audience hated him, and they changed his character into a generic U.S.-hating, foreign bad guy."

Chad Deity is the first play that long-time Bay Area director Jon Tracy has done for the Aurora, and he says he's enjoyed the challenge of putting on the wildly physical wrestling scenes in the intimate 150-seat theater.

Tracy knows little about pro wrestling, but he says he gets caught up in the language of the play.

"Kristoffer Diaz is writing about human needs and human awareness and racism and exploitation," he said. "The lead is trying to understand how to be a man of color in this particular world."

Diaz, a New Yorker, who has seen this play staged at a large theater in Chicago and a small one in Pennsylvania, says he's excited to have Chad Deity at the Aurora.

"There's something about the energy in the Bay Area," he said. "You have this play that's loud and obnoxious and about race and class and where the hell else are you going to do that?"

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity continues through Sept. 30 at the Aurora Theatre, 2801 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Admission is $32-$50.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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Emily Wilson

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