Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety, Karamu House

(Reginald McAlpine as Chad Diety and Davis Aquila as "The Mace.")

This is a play that desperately wants to be a satire on American values, reflected through the faux posturing (and faux everything) of pro wrestling.

Written by Kristoffer Diaz, it has all the elements of a potentially incisive look into the myths we all share about race, among other things. It is particularly on-target with the way wrestling creates heroes like the title character, and villains like the “The Fundamentalist.”

These “grudge matches” are of course simplistic, sort of the way Fox News covers politics, so the overall metaphor at work has promise.

But the script is saddled with long monologs spoken by Macedonio Guerra a wrestler who is promoted with the nickname “The Mace.”

He grew up loving wrestling and now claims he is the bomb in the ring. Except the manager of his wrestling outfit, Everett K. Olson, always wants him to train the other wrestlers and make them look good. He is seething with resentment over this, but his long speeches eventually become tiresome and repetitive.

Performing satire requires a production that is fine-tuned and consistent, otherwise it can easily turn into mush. The Karamu cast under the direction of Terrence Spivey gives its all to this effort, and there are certainly some well-ripped bods on display.

But this show body-slams itself in too many ways to eventually be very effective. Davis Aquila as “The Mace” is earnest, but he never completely conquers the droning speeches he has to impart. He, as well as others, occasionally speak too rapidly and with less than precise diction, which doesn’t help.

Reginald McAlpine struts and bellows as Diety, but we never learn much about him except that he likes to speak of himself in the third person. “The Fundamentalist” was born in India but due to his brown skin is rebranded as a Middle-Eastern Moslem extremist to fire up the crowds. He is played by Prophet Seay, a talented actor who here seems cut adrift by the need to speak in various accents, few of which ring true.

Mark Seven, as the wrestling manager Olson, speaks slowly and clearly enough. But his melodramatic gestures and facial expressions are reminiscent of silent film star Lillian Gish. Over-the-top acting is fine in a satire, as long as everyone is along for the ride. Here, it seems everyone is doing his own play, and it never comes together.

On the plus side, there are a couple brief wrestling scenes that feel pretty genuine, in a fake way of course. And kudos to scenic designer Richard H. Morris, Jr. for creating a dramatic set including a true-to-life, full-size wrestling ring.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety
Through April 6 at Karamu House, 2355 E. 89th St., 216-795-7077

No comments: