The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. The opening moments are pulse-poundingly exciting — music, live wrestling, flashing lights, tons of adrenaline from an already hyped-up audience. But the actual scripted beginning of the play is quiet, as a Puerto Rican kid called Mace describes his lifelong fascination with pro wrestling in an extended and appealing monologue. Now Mace is immersed in the world he so admired as a kid: He's a literal fall guy, the fighter employed to lose to the federation's star, Chad Deity — who, in fact, can't fight a lick. Then Deity swaggers down the aisle while rock music roars, tossing out hundred-dollar bills bearing his likeness, a huge gold belt accentuating his magnificently muscled torso, and the adrenaline surges again. Through the entire evening, the play's mix of emotional intensity and over-the-top theatricality grabs us in a headlock and won't let go. Mace meets a hyper-charged young Indian from Brooklyn named Vigneshwar Paduar, or VP, who's fluent in the tough-guy speak of several city neighborhoods and also a handful of foreign languages, and introduces him to league owner EKO, who soon figures out a way to make use of what he sees as the Indian's indeterminate nationality in the ring. He'll be from one of those Middle Eastern countries like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, or — hey! — Israel. They'll dub him the Fundamentalist, and he'll fight a wholesome all-American boy. Mace, wearing an idiotic sombrero and dubbed Che-Chavez-Castro, will serve as villainous sidekick. None of this is subtle — but nor is professional wrestling's shameless dealing in prejudice and stereotype. The wonder is that so many Americans outside the wrestling scene accept these cartoonish and xenophobic ideas. The script is absorbing, funny, wicked smart. Though playwright Kristoffer Diaz's parody of the wrestling world is broad, his characters are shaded and individualized. The real brilliance of Chad Deity, however, goes beyond the script, and lies in the play's pure theatricality, the way Diaz uses the grimy, over-the-top antics of professional wrestling to tell a story with brain and heart. A joint production of Curious Theater Company and Theatreworks, at Dusty Loo Bo Vivant Theater at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs through November 11; for information, go to www.theatreworkscs.org or call 719-255-3232. Reviewed September 13.
44 Plays for 44 Presidents. With most of us having lost patience with the deluge of election mailers, commercials and pundit commentary — all of it misleading and almost none of it addressing anything we really care about — a sharp, incisive take on the American presidency is exactly the tonic we need. And 44 Plays comes so close. It's a bright and stimulating evening, but it doesn't quite pull off what the authors intend: to make us think about the meaning of the American presidency; remind us of patterns tracing through our history; and help us understand the way the stories of our nation get woven over time. Five actors — two men and three women — play all the parts. The style is presentational, chipper and sly. The presidency is represented by a star-spangled red, white and blue coat, and each presidency is featured in a small theater piece — narrative, quasi-realistic, representational, absurd. You get a fragmented sense of the tide of history — the murder and displacement of Native Americans by one president after another; when the Alien and Sedition Acts first came into being and how they were eventually used; just how deep-rooted the big government-social welfare/small government-privatization debate is in our body politic; the peculiar foibles of some of our presidents. As assassinations roll by, you start wondering if violence is in our very DNA. And 44 Plays also reminds us of the actual accomplishments of some of the presidents: the national parks, support for the poor and the powerless — a thin, wavering thread that runs quietly through American politics — and how Theodore Roosevelt created the Food and Drug Administration following the furor caused by Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle, which exposed the filth and misery of the cattle industry. But the weaknesses are inherent to the form. We get only partial views, with important presidents defined only by a single quirk or action. Presented by Square Product Theatre through November 3, Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 303-444-7328, squareproducttheatre.org. Reviewed October 25.
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The Value of Names. As the play opens, a father and daughter are seated on the patio of an opulent Malibu home overlooking the ocean. Benny is a brilliant Jewish comic who lost his livelihood and reputation during the Red Scare of the 1950s — though he has now come back to achieve a measure of fame and wealth. Norma is an actress who has just been cast in an interesting new play, one that could help make her career. Everything comes to a head when the director of her play becomes ill and is replaced by Leo, the man who betrayed her father thirty years ago. Leo visits the house in Malibu to persuade Norma to continue in the role. Benny confronts him. Arguments — two-sided, three-sided — ensue. Periodically, Norma steps out of the action to provide narration. This could make for a rather static format, except that the characters are interesting, and Benny is often very funny in that warmly humorous Borscht Belt style. The issues the play explores remain intensely relevant. Will Benny forgive Leo, and should he? Playwright Jeffrey Sweet never quite tips his hand here, though he makes it clear that Benny's enduring bitterness probably caused his divorce and continues to distort and vex his daughter's life. The problem is that Leo never asks for forgiveness or admits even obliquely that he's done anything wrong. It says a lot for the play, as well as for Richard Pegg's intelligent and meticulous direction, that Sweet's questions keep the audience both emotionally and intellectually engaged through an intriguing ninety minutes. Produced by Theatre Or and the Mizel Arts and Culture Center through November 4, 350 South Dahlia Street, 303-316-6360, www.maccjcc.org. Reviewed September 27.