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  • José Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Andrew Perez, left, who plays "The Mace," gets a foot to the face from Rushi Kota ("The Fundamentalist") during a rehearsal for "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" at Capital Stage.

  • Director Jonathan Williams says wrestling is but the beginning in "Chad Deity": "The story itself is much more intricate than that."

  • José Luis Villegas

    Director Jonathan Williams, right foreground, and others prepare to rehearse – and sweat.

  • José Luis Villegas

    Bethany Beam, left, and Misty Day work on an advertising mural for the show at the J Street theater.

Capital Stage opens wrestling satire 'Chad Deity'

Published: Sunday, Jul. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6AANDE
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 15, 2013 - 8:25 am

Go to actor Andrew Perez's YouTube and Netflix viewing history and you'll be hard-pressed to find anything other than montages of "powerbombs," "superkicks," "clotheslines" and "elbow-drops."

Perez stars in the Sacramento premiere of "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity" – Kristoffer Diaz's 2010 Pulitzer Prize-nominated, Obie Award-winning play set in the world of professional wrestling. It opened Saturday at midtown Sacramento's Capital Stage.

"Everyone has heard the phrase, 'professional wrestling is fake,' because it's a show," Perez said. "It's a performance. But it's an incredibly athletic and, at least at first, a rather painful art form."

But "Chad Deity" is about more than just in-the-ring action, according to director and Capital Stage co-founder Jonathan Williams.

"The world of wrestling is the beginning, the launching pad," he said during a rehearsal break. "The story itself is much more intricate than that."

A serious-minded, satirical comedy, "Chad Deity" uses the popular form of entertainment, where spectacular illusions and overt stereotyping are the norm, to comment on ethnic identity in the United States.

"Professional wrestling is just ripe for this kind of satire," Williams said. "I am surprised that no one has used this medium as a way to create social commentary about American society before now, because it is so on the money."

At 5-foot-8 and 147 pounds, Perez seems small for the ring. But "Deity's" lead is actually the fall guy – someone who's paid to lose.

Perez plays Puerto Rican wrestler Macedonio "The Mace" Guerra, who drops at the touch of Chad Deity (Donald Paul), the hip-hop styled African American champion of THE Wrestling.

The conflict comes when Mace persuades the charismatic Vigneshwar "VP" Paduar (Rushi Kota) to join the league and THE Wrestling's Caucasian owner Everett "Eko" Olson (Randall King) decides to portray him as a terrorist to increase ratings.

When Olson dubs him "The Fundamentalist" and matches him against Deity, Mace questions his integrity as a player in the rigged game.

Williams said "Deity" is an allegory meant to illustrate American sociopolitics.

"Professional wrestling is about reducing things down to the lowest common denominator, into bite-sized, little parcels," he said. "So American society can digest it easily and quickly understand exactly what is going on.

"We do that more than just in the world of wrestling. We do that all time."

Nevertheless, the folks at Capital Stage have developed a keen appreciation for the dramatic, testosterone-fueled world inside the ropes.

The original "Chad Deity" script warns that the written wrestling moves are dangerous when not done properly. With that in mind, Perez and the Cap Stage actors trained with the Total Wrestling Federation's Steven "The Beast" Smith for four weeks.

Like professional grapplers, the actors work together during the staged matches, providing balance and pivot points as well as neck protection to create the illusion and avoid hospital visits.

In addition, Williams had to figure out how to transform his 125-seat theater into something that feels like a 15,000-seat arena.

While he's known for designing his own sets (as in March's "The Mountaintop") Williams enlisted a team to replicate the wrestlers' elaborate entrances – with multiple Jumbotrons and flashy pyrotechnics – referred to in the play's title.

Ian Wallace designed the wrestling ring that dominates the theater space, as well as live and pre-recorded video elements. Gregg Coffin composed original sound elements. Steve Decker worked on lighting, incorporating LEDs for extra flash. And Lalena Hutton designed the elaborate costumes as well as other details, such as fake money – etched with Deity's face – that's thrown to audiences.

Williams and Perez have worked together previously. Most recently, the duo appeared in Capital Stage's season opener, "Enron," with Williams as the lead actor and Perez in the ensemble.

Williams also directed Perez in Cap Stage's critically acclaimed "Master Class" in 2011. Perez previously had roles in Cap Stage's "The North Plan" as well as at the Sacramento Theatre Company, B Street Theatre and the New Helvetia Theatre.

Meanwhile, Williams has directed, acted in and set- designed works in the Bay Area before starting Capital Stage in 2005. "Chad Deity" concludes Capital Stage's season under the "power plays" theme – a tie to the popular "powerbomb" wrestling move featured in the play, in which an opponent is lifted into the air and slammed on his back.

But mostly it speaks to Cap Stage's general mission to challenge audiences.

"We're really about trying to start a conversation," Williams said. "And this piece fits."


CAPITAL STAGE

What: The Sacramento premiere of Kristoffer Diaz's racially charged satire "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity"

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Aug. 11.

Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento

Tickets: $24-$35

Information: Call (916) 995-5464 or go to http://capstage.org

Call The Bee's Janelle Bitker, (916) 321-1027. On Twitter: @JanelleBitker.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Janelle Bitker



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