Don’t Tap Out Yet: ‘Chad Deity’ has a lot to say about wrestling with life

Don’t Tap Out Yet: ‘Chad Deity’ has a lot to say about wrestling with life
LARA JO HIGHTOWER/Special to the Free Weekly

“I really think it’s going to be unlike any show that a TheatreSquared audience has ever seen,” says Dexter Singleton, director of T2’s new production, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.”

When audiences walk into T2’s West Theatre and see that it’s been turned into a wrestling arena, they’re apt to agree.

The play made a huge splash with its Chicago debut in 2009 before later moving to an off-Broadway stage. It would become a Pulitzer Prize finalist and rack up a host of awards including winner of the 2008 National Latino Playwriting Award, an Obie Award for Best New American Play and the New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award.

Singleton — whose dual passions of theater and sports are married in scripts like “Chad Deity” — is hopeful that this will be a play that will satisfy audiences from both of those spheres of entertainment.

“This is a great play to introduce people to theater, people who have never seen a play before,” he notes. “Because it’s not just a ‘sit there and be quiet’ type of play. You can yell, you can scream, you can do all of that and be engaged, just like you would be at a wrestling or another sporting event.”

Playwright Kristoffer Diaz’s incisive play uses outrageous wit, over-the-top theatrics, and flashy — and authentic — wrestling moves as satirical commentary on an industry rife with xenophobia, racism, homophobia and sexism. And he does it in a way that’s so entertaining, you might not recognize the message until you realize you’re still musing about the themes days later.

Actor Cedric Leiba Jr. is front and center as the weary, jaded wrestler Macedonio “Mace” Guerra. Describing himself as “the guy who loses to make the winners look good,” Guerra is ready for his turn in the spotlight as a champion within THE Wrestling, the organization he’s been involved in for decades. Despite the fact that his shot never seems to come, he’s too in love with the sport to walk away.

“He’s doing this job knowing that there are a lot of negative things — political things, racial things — that he has to go through, but he’s willing to go through them because he loves the sport so much,” says Leiba. “He loves the art form, the storytelling. In the play, we see what he goes through behind the scenes, and what he has to put up with. He’s fighting, not only for himself, but for all marginalized people. As he’s telling his story, we get exposed to the great things about wrestling, but also the negative aspects that most people don’t want to talk about.”

Diaz admits that Mace’s views on the sport are very close to his own.

“The secret of writing is that all characters are stand-ins for the writer at all times,” he says with a laugh. “You get to portray whatever sort of conflicted feelings you have about anything, about the world, by creating characters who think the same thing. Mace is definitely one of the two or three characters that I’ve ever written who is directly based on my emotions towards things — yes, professional wrestling, but also about the American theater, also about the American political system at the time, also about race. For me, pro wrestling was a super easy container for those things for me to write about, because it was my favorite thing for probably the first 15 years of my life, so you get to explore these complicated topics with something that you’re really passionate about.”

Singleton, who is T2’s director of New Play Development, is no stranger to the sports/theater mash-up: He directed T2’s popular production “The Royale,” a play inspired by the real-world boxer Jack Johnson who, as a black man at the height of the Jim Crow era, became the heavyweight champion of the world. (That show starred Shon Middlebrook, who returns to the T2 stage for “Chad Deity” in the title role.)

“I’m always fascinated with how plays and sports can merge, because they are just so theatrical in nature,” Singleton says. “And if we can merge the arts with other parts of our culture that interest us, then why not? With ‘Chad’ and ‘The Royale,’ both plays are written by phenomenal writers, writers who have had great success in theater but tremendous success in television and film, as well. They’re already aware of what can engage people in other mediums, and they’ve been able to translate that well to the theater.”

Where “The Royale” used stage theatricality to suggest the sport of boxing — no actor actually landed a punch on stage, but as an audience member, you would have sworn they did — the wrestling in “Chad Deity” is so real, so authentic, that, if you’re sitting close enough to the stage, you might just feel some drops of sweat hit you during some of the more heated moments of the play. Professional wrestler Alexander Gold, who plays The Bad Guy in the show, also serves as wrestling coach for the other actors. Leiba says the training has been intense.

“Soreness, crying, prayers, FaceTime calls with my family asking, ‘What am I doing?’” he answers with a big laugh when asked how the first couple of wrestling sessions went. “But TheatreSquared has been amazing about providing services for us and making sure we’re taking care of ourselves. We have to show this kind of work in order to tell the story truthfully and authentically.”

Actor Vince Teninty returns to the T2 stage, where he’s performed before in “Detroit” and “The Royale,” as THE Wrestling CEO Everett K. Olson, known as EKO in the industry. Teninty notes that this commitment to the authenticity of the sport is a nod of respect from the playwright to the audience.

“What Kristopher Diaz has done is said, ‘Hi, professional wrestling people: I know you might not be big on theater, but I’m gonna hug you and bring you in and allow you to experience the show from your point of view,’” he says. “And it is not making fun of wrestling. It is not condescending towards it in any way. It’s actually uplifting the entertainment and the sport of it so that when you watch it, you think, ‘Yes! This is why I love professional wrestling.’”



‘The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday through May 8

WHERE — TheatreSquared, 477 W. Spring St. in Fayetteville

COST — $10-$54

INFO — 777-7477 or

Lara Jo Hightower, for several years a writer for The Free Weekly, now works with TheatreSquared and occasionally contributes here. Email her at

Categories: Theater