Review: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Zach Theatre
by Justin M. West
Ed. note: CTXLT colleague Justin M. West suffered a near knockout from the 'rona but made his way to a keyboard to deliver this review. He regrets the delay. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is scheduled to run through October 23, 2022.
If you’re the type to skim or just read the first bit of a review to get the gist, this is for you: Stop reading. Buy tickets. Go see this show. Don’t like wrestling? I don’t care. You will by the time the curtain drops. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is one of the top five performances I’ve ever seen. Seriously. Go see it.
Anyway, on with the review.
Few shows I’ve seen have managed to flip my perception of something on its head. Fewer still are those that leave me disappointed when intermission comes and sends me away from the theatre a total chatterbox, eagerly comparing notes and looking for meaning in every scene. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity does it all.
Where does one even start? With the amazing cast and their brilliant performances?With the stagecraft used to perfection, the use of practical and deceptively complex technical wizardry to add a layer to already-hilarious jokes? Great writing? Excellent direction? Something else?
I’ve struggled with it, so I think I’m settling on the alternative, which is to offer the criticisms first.
Trouble is, there are no criticisms. Okay, sure, I can honestly say that Chad Deity is the first show during which I’ve yelled “You suck!” from my seat. I’d do it again! But it certainly wasn’t because anything actually sucked. Go see the show, you’ll see what I mean, and you’ll be shouting, yourself.
I wracked my brain for days trying to think of something I might have changed or done differently, or something that didn’t work quite as well as it could have, and I got nothin’. All I have is glowing praise for a show in which every single element works to perfection. If I had to pick something as a flaw, it would actually be the audience, inhibited by a lifetime of being told to be quiet in theaters. That makes it difficult for them to be as loud and participatory as the script demands. Fortunately, the cast knows this and does well at drawing folks out of their shells. Subtly well-timed light cues also help.
Austin loves social commentary. Theatre is of course a format that plays well to this type of exploration, and Chad Deity does it better than most. On its surface, the work is a biting, no-holds-barred sendup of stereotypes and bigotry, masquerading as a love letter to an artform. I cannot overstate the incredible skill required of all involved to make such satire work. Good satire is a tightrope walk. Instead of tiptoeing delicately across the wire to land safely on the other side, Chad Deity pauses midway, does a handstand, performs a triple lutz, and then hops on one foot to the finish, all while winking at spectators too busy laughing to realize how easy the cast has made it look.
In a word, this show is “hilarious,” but as in any good theatre piece there are layers to peeled back. You can certainly leave the show with a gleaming smile, satisfied by the comedy though perhaps disappointed that a certain shirt isn’t actually available for sale. On the other hand, you might spend the following few days thinking about the personal story that was actually the center focus, as well as the rather grim, realist perspective the climax seems to promote.
It’s just so damn clever.
In a cast this small, it’s hard to accuse anyone of stealing the show, particularly because that's precisely what they all set out to do. That's just one reason the show works so damn well.
Nicholas Robert Ortiz as Mace is our usher through the evening’s events. He immediately breaks the fourth wall, and his emotional quick changes are so convincing they'll give you whiplash. Mace has an almost childlike reverence for the sport he’s drawing us into, and we’re rooting for him from the start. Like his character, Ortiz expertly sets up the rest of the cast and serves as the bedrock for the rest of the performance. We believe in Mace. We’re rooting for him. Ortiz has a rare kind of infectious enthusiasm that sets the tone and makes sure the audience is buckled up for the ride.
André Martin’s Everett K. Olson is such a good sendup of Vince McMahon that at times you forget this is a different character. Martin comically struts to center stage in his entrance, the living embodiment of a gif I’ve sent a hundred times. Olson is a money-chasing dolt, with few if any redeeming qualities, but Martin still gives him heart. He’s the villain we love to hate.
Hollis Edwards III as the titular Chad Deity is equal parts Macho Man Randy Savage and President Camacho. While elements from those characters sneak in, Edwards’ buttery voice and outrageous personality combine for a performance we crave more of. Every entrance really is more elaborate than the last. What’s amazing is that even this bombastic character Deity has an arc. He's far from hollow. In quieter moments we're given a glimpse into who Deity really is, and we get him. Bravado takes a back seat to mutual respect, and in those moments Deity isn’t a bad guy. He’s not the arrogant jerk who doesn’t deserve his success. He’s just a guy. That takes acting skill, and Edwards is as precise as a surgeon in fine tuning his performance.
Herman Gambhir as VP is a vision. I'm far too lazy to type out the character’s full name, which I’m now realizing is perhaps yet another clever joke, this time against critics like me. In a lot of ways, VP echoes the blinding enthusiasm of his buddy, Mace, but Gambhir gets to really take it further. Some of the show’s most biting satire is also its most potentially offensive. I could feel that some of those in the audience around me were afraid to laugh - but Gambhir wasn’t about to let that happen. This dude straight up embodies his character and is not going to let the audience leave without laughing at the sheer hilarity of the tropes he’s sending up. Moreover, Gambhir’s performance echoes his character’s fearless determination and refusal to be constrained. Fucking brav-o.
You know, I feel bad for Danny Zigal. Firstly, kudos to whoever cast him, because I loved this guy. I didn’t mention in the above notes on the cast just how unbelievably chiseled these guys are. I was going to go without mentioning it at all, because I didn’t want to detract from their performances. But dammit, I have to mention it here because while Edwards, Gambhir, and Ortiz are up there showcasing muscles I didn’t even know existed and awakening the less-than-straight parts of me, Zigal has the unfortunate duty of climbingup there, just be a normal guy, and getting his ass kicked. His job is to make the other guys look good. Ironically he’s the one doing the heavy lifting, quite literally and quite often.
Zigal is awesome. He plays multiple parts, each more hilarious - and physically taxing - than the last, and the audience eats it up. If he said a single word in the show, I don’t remember it, and I’d have loved nothing more than to see his character(s) rule the day.
Finally, there is one particular scene towards the show’s ending that I have to call out. I cannot give too much away, but I will say that I’m getting chills writing about it. In a center-stage scene that was unquestionably the most choreographically complex I've ever seen, Nicholas Robert Ortiz somehow manages to simultaneously execute this dance to perfection while giving a monologue. I have absolutely no idea how that is possible for a performer, at least least not without getting winded. I’m serious, it’s absolutely brilliant and one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in any performance, ever. Everyone in that scene was amazing, and Ortiz deserves some kind of fucking award for it. You'll find that sequence worth the price of admission all on its own.
I have to resist the temptation to just run down every name in the list on the program in front of me, heaping praise upon the entire cast and crew. Suffice it to say that The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is just what the title proclaims. It’s elaborate. It's an uproariously hilarious participatory experience that still manages to sink in its teeth and say more in fewer words than most shows twice as long. Congratulations to everyone who took part in making this, because this show excels at everything it does in surprising, endlessly entertaining ways. Well. Fucking. Done.
September 28 - October 23, 2022
South Lamar Blvd at Riverside Drive
Austin, TX, 78704
September 28–October 23, 2022
ZACH360 on The Topfer at ZACH | 202 South Lamar | Austin, TX | 78704
Tickets: Start at $25, available at ZACH’s box office – 512-476-0541 x1, zachtheatre.org
Special Events in celebration of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity:
- Pride Night – Thursday, September 29, 2022
- Press and Champagne Opening Night – Saturday, October 1, 2022
- ASL/Open-Caption Performance – Wednesday, October 12, 2022
COVID PROTOCOLS AND HEALTH AND SAFETY:
Though masks are optional at ZACH Theatre at this time, wearing a high-quality mask (KF94, KN95, or better) is encouraged as it can provide individuals with additional protection.
The health and safety of our ZACH family has always been our first priority, and we will continue to monitor risk levels in Austin and update our policies in accordance with CDC and Austin Public Health guidelines.
Find a complete list of ZACH’s Health & Safety commitments, please visit zachtheatre.org/healthandsafety.