“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” opening in previews Jan. 24 at the Wilbury Group’s Olneyville space, has been called a “drop-kicking, body-slamming, balls-out theatrical happening set in the larger-than-life world of professional wrestling.”
But Josh Short, artistic director for the Wilbury Group and director of “Chad Deity,” said it’s “not a play about professional wrestling.” Instead, it’s a play that, at face value, has all the head-bashing, spandex-snapping splendor of pro-wrestling, but as its core tackles much deeper issues.
“The themes – exploring race and how our sensibilities after events like 9/11 can be exploited – are pretty universal,” wrote Short in an email.
He said the play is also about attaining your life’s dream only to find that it’s not what you’d expected.
“Or, [as one character] points out in the play: being made to justify to yourself why ‘it ain't so bad to exist outside ourselves for the sake of 20 pounds of gold around our waist,’” wrote Short.
The play, the winner of an Obie Award and the nominee for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, was written by Brooklyn-based playwright, Kristoffer Diaz.
Diaz said he grew up watching pro-wrestling during his childhood in Yonkers, New York. A Puerto Rican living in a predominately Jewish suburb, Diaz said he realized he had one foot in the suburbs and one foot in the barrio. He also, in retrospect, says he spent far too much time watching and learning about professional wrestling.
“I know more about it than I should,” he said during a telephone interview earlier this month.
Diaz said the style of “Chad Deity” mirrors that of pro-wrestling: it’s big, over-the-top and in your face. But he echoes Short in saying that it is not a play about wrestlers; it’s a play about our society.
“It’s really a play about race, ethnicity and power,” he said.
“Chad Deity” tells the story of two pro-wrestlers vying for their spot in the limelight against a slew of classic “bad guys” and, of course, the inimitable Chad Deity. It’s a farce saturated with social commentary.
For Diaz, the choice to write a play set in the professional wrestling world was born out of his knowledge on the topic; it just happened to be extremely conducive to the satire he produced. Diaz said the pro-wrestling world is a lot like the current political system in America: you don’t necessarily have to be talented to succeed, you just need star quality.
Since its premiere at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater in 2009 and subsequent off-Broadway run at Second Stage in 2010, “Chad Deity” has been produced about a dozen times across the country.
In 2010, it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and was up against “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play),” “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” and “Next To Normal,” which won the award.
Even though he lost – his Twitter bio says simply, “Pulitzer Prize Loser” – Diaz said he wears the loss as “a badge of pride.” For Diaz, the nomination alone opened many doors.
“It was the best thing that ever happened in my career,” he said of the Pulitzer nod. “It’s something to be super excited about.”
Diaz earned his Bachelor’s degree at the Gallatin School of Individualized Studies at New York University, and then went on to earn an MFA from NYU’s Department of Dramatic Writing and another in Performance Art Management at Brooklyn College.
Originally, Diaz thought he would be an actor, having starred in several productions during high school. But when he left his hometown in Yonkers and set his sights on Manhattan, he quickly realized that those who wanted to pursue acting professionally had a completely different take on the field than he did.
“The poured their whole lives into it,” he said. Knowing he still wanted to be involved in the theatrical world, but not so sure a career on the stage would be his outlet, Diaz shifted his focus to playwriting. But being a successful playwright in NYC isn’t any easier than being a working actor.
“It was super daunting,” he said. It took Diaz seven years to get one of his plays produced. In the meantime, he attended grad school classes and taught in New York public schools. It wasn’t until 2009 that he got his big break with “Chad Deity.”
“I always say, ‘It took me seven years to be an overnight sensation,’” he said with a laugh.
Now Diaz makes a living off his writing, and resides in Brooklyn with his wife and 10-month-old son. He’s currently working on a few scripts for both the stage and the screen, and he’s helping to develop a new musical, “The Unfortunates,” that’s set to open at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in March. (Another tie to Rhode Island: Trinity Repertory Company members Rachael Warren and Mauro Hantman will spend the season performing at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, though not in “The Unfortunates.” They’re expected to return to Trinity next season.)
Diaz said it’s surreal and exciting to see his work produced on various stages across the country. It’s also satisfying for him to know he’s putting talented, young artists of color to work, something he’d like to see more of.
“The actors are out there,” he said. Diaz urges casting directors to take note that actors of color as just as well trained and prepared as their Caucasian counterparts, and hopes that more non-traditional casting (say, an East Asian man playing Tom in “The Glass Menagerie”) takes place in the future.
For budding writers, Diaz has this advice to offer: “Be ready to write for TV!” It’s a joke, but it’s also the truth.
On a more serious note, Diaz encouraged new playwrights to write what they want to see on stage, what they already know, and mainly, what they want to write.
“You have to say what no one else is saying,” said Diaz, not mimic what’s already out there.
For now, Diaz is hopeful to continue on his path of success.
“[I want to continue] doing the kind of work that means something,” he said.
The Wilbury Group’s production of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” runs Thursdays through Sundays, Jan. 24 through Feb. 9 at the Butcher Block Mill, 25 Eagle Street, Providence. Tickets range from $15-25 and can be purchased by calling 401-400-7100 or by visiting www.thewilburygroup.org.
An award-winning journalist and theater critic - and a performer at heart. Kim's talents have taken her from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NY, to stages in Boston and Providence's own Trinity Repertory.