The actors from left, Gerardo Rodriquez (in mask), Ansa Akyea, Bill Borea (an actual professional wrestler and actor), and Shalin Agarwal.
By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (March 26, 2010) – The world of professional wrestling becomes a microcosm for the ills of American society as four athletes find grappling with their stereotypical characters to be a bigger challenge than the physical challenges of the ring.Thomas W. Jones II directs the Mixed Blood Theatre premiere of “The Elaborate Entrance Of Chad Deity”, opening April 9 and running through May 2. The provocative story examines the popular culture avenue of professional wrestling as a mirror of American ideals and geopolitical fears told through a moving comedy drama.
“This is the most fun I have had on a show in a long time,” said Jones.
There is a big set that includes a wrestling ring with interactive video and other surprises. The entrances to the ring range from the run down to the extravagant – forcing the wrestler into his place in the universe as dictated by their entrance – reflecting racial distortions of how a few can control the way people see themselves and the world.
Playwright Kristoffer Diaz, a Bronx native and Jerome Fellow at The Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis, creates an alter-ego of sorts in the character of Macedonio Guerra, a Puerto Rican professional wrestler who has made a career as the loser. He has the proud heart of a revolutionary in real life and the Indian American character, a street-wise, tough talking athlete, begin to examine the life they had not questioned until now.
Gerardo Rodriguez start as Macedonia Guerra. Ansa Akyea portrays Chad Deity, an African American All-American champion, and real-life professional wrestler Edwin Strout portrays the Caucasian wrestler Billy Blaze. The Indian wrestler is portrayed by Shalin Agarwal, the only cast member from the Philadelphia production to be in the Minneapolis show.
“I got offered the role again and jumped on it because I thing the part is fantastic,” said Agarwal. “The character is a young Indian American from Brooklyn, and is a very charismatic, street smart and dynamic character.”
The Agarwal character is something Jones calls an anomaly in the American melting pot. He is misunderstood as the bottom of the pile, a streetwise, hip-hop talking tough guy, but behind that façade is someone who seven languages and lives a fascinating life.
“The story is the nature of their relationship and what they discover together,” said Jones. “He grapples with the stereotypes of the characters that are written for him as guided by racial politics.”
The wrestling world is a script of cultural hierarchies and imposition as metaphor – or a blueprint for the American experiment, said Jones. The cultures within are stories struggling to be heard but it is about who is telling the stories that will define the perception of reality.
The heightened theatrical sense from so many cultural references and actors of color that is not typical to the American theater lexicon is exciting said Jones. The central Black character of Chad is a metaphor for assimilation, he added. His character has a decision to give up, or to do anything to fit in and succeed no matter the cost.
The stories of these four wrestlers inspire cultural discussion in such a way that is contemporary and extremely engaging, he added. These characters perform in an over-the-top environment and do extraordinary things to succeed – but it is more about who they are without the mask and then how they deal with what is required of them continue or change their realities.
The actors begin each rehearsal with three hours of stretching and exercise before practicing the actual wrestling moves that they use in the show with an actual fight choreographer. Its as much about conditioning to be able to say their lines while wrestling as it is about choreography.
“It is grueling and I don’t envy the task,” said Jones.
“It’s not a huge stretch,” Agarwal added. “My character is described as a skinny Indian kid, and I’m lean anyway.”
Raised in Miami and a graduate of the Bachelor of Fine Arts Theatre Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Agarwal now lives in New York. His South Asian looks have brought roles as Shaun Cohen, a terrorist in the 2009 feature thriller “Homeland, A Dangerous Place” (Corrado Schoner Productions); a Deli Worker in the 2010 film Bronx Paradise.
He was understandably hesitant about a play calling for a South Asian athlete to portray a “fundamentalist” type. It was after further reading that he appreciated how the playwright used the world of professional wrestling as a microcosm for America, and as a lens to portray the way minorities are viewed in America – the way minorities have been held down and made to fit into boxes.
The play shows what is in their minds and what are their strengths and assets to reveal what an America that will emerge that has never been seen before, and said the Philadelphia and Chicago audiences enjoyed the comedy.
“It is a hilarious play,” he said, adding that the Chicago production was picked up entirely to begin an off-Broadway show that will open this month.
The post discussions have related to the characters and the contemporary themes of how minorities are defining America, and the future of the world with wrestling mimicking the idea of new superpowers in India China, Brazil and Russia.
“It is a very relevant play and traditional theater goers will really enjoy it,” he added. “It is pro wrestling meets urban theatre, and racial politics meets ratings.”
Agarwal has found performed with Hudson Shakespeare Company; Hypothetical Theatre and PossEble Theatre in New York. His television appearances include guest starring roles on “30 Rock”, “Cupid”, “One Life to Live”, and “As the World Turns.”
are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. An April 8 preview performance will start at 7:30 p.m. All performances are held in the Alan Page Auditorium of Mixed Blood’s historic firehouse theatre, 1501 S. Fourth Street on the West Bank in Minneapolis.
Tickets range $14 to $28. Call 612-338-6131 or visit www.mixedblood.com.