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'Chad Diety' Playwright Kristoffer Diaz Compares Wrestling to Theater

Kristoffer diaz_champ belt Many critics view professional wrestling as a world of superficial theatrics, but Kristoffer Diaz, playwright of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, explored a deeper level of parallels between the wrestling and theater worlds in a recent interview with the L.A. Times.

"There's an independent wrestling scene, but the WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] is essentially a monopoly," he says. "And as a wrestler, you can say, 'This place is racist, homophobic, and on top of that it's a bad version of what I want to do.' But what are you going to do? You either go to a smaller arena, or you stay in the big time and you're complicit."

A fan of professional wrestling since a young age, Diaz compares that business model with the  way he feels about writing plays.

"If you're a playwright who doesn't want to do people-on-a-couch plays, there are not a lot of avenues," Diaz says. "You can go and do television, or you can stay and fight with organizations that aren't really equipped to support work by people of color or experiment with form."

He argues that the word "minority" in the theater world is just as much about age as it is about ethnicity. "People under 40 are the ones I'm interested in getting into the room," he says.

Chad Diety  follows Macedonio "Mace" Guerra, a third-tier wrestler, as he tries to climb high in a medium where self-expression and diversity are scarce. Diaz, 35, says the play is inspired by the story of Mexican-American wrestler Chavo Guerrero.

"Chavo's job was to make guys look better than they were, which meant he lost a lot. And he was so skilled at it that there weren't a lot of guys who could play that same fall-guy role for him so that he could be the champion." The Pulitzer Prize finalist mixes monologues that match hip-hop rhythms with multimedia aspects and on stage smack-downs to appeal to a younger demographic that he feels is missing from the theater.

Former WWE wrestler Muhammed Hassan's story is also a primary source of the playwright's motivation for writing Chad Diety. Clad in a kaffiyeh and "praying" to Allah before matches, Hassan was set up to be a villain of Smackdown! who would be  set up to lose to the favorites. However, Hassan's career ended in 2005 when one of his pseudo-terrorist skits coincided with the London transit bombings.

Obviously touched by the story, Diaz has Guerra reference this incident on more than one occasion, even bluntly telling the audience to Google Hassan when they returned home that night. Diaz's fresh style of intertwining narrative monologues into the story, along with an experimentation with space, makes this play more than an outcry of injustice in a world where voices may be constricted. It shows a parallel of two different performance worlds through the outlet of the stage. 

And apparently he does it well. Chad Diety has been produced five times in the past two years. Commissions from a ton of organizations such as L.A.'s Center Theatre Group, New York's Public Theater, Chicago's Teatro Vista, Dallas Theatre Center, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival help fund the production as it grows bigger and bigger.

The challenge for the Teatro Vista company, which is now presenting the production in L.A., was to find actors who could look and play the part of wrestlers, including physically convincingly pulling off the choreographed wrestling moves.

"We did a nice, long search, and we got a cast that understands this world," said Edward Torres, a director at Teatro Vista. "We also asked for an extra week and a half of rehearsal, just to learn the moves."

The challenge to reveal the behind-the-scenes happenings of the wrestling world seems to be a popular topic lately. Along with Diaz's play, the world of the 1980s WWF will be the subject of a new NBC drama produced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Jerry Bruckheimer.

-- Ali Mierzejewski

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