Ringside With Kristoffer Diaz
As you enter Second Stage on 43rd Street, you might get the sensation of being ten blocks south at Madison Square Garden. Hip-hop music booms, glitzy t-shirts are for sale, and a WWE-style wrestling ring sits center stage, all awaiting The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, a new play by Kristoffer Diaz that premiered last year at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater and was recently named as finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
With a cast of characters that includes Chad Deity, God’s gift to the world of professional wrestling, and Macedonio “Mace” Guerra—our less-sculpted storyteller from the Bronx who does the “heavy lifting” to make Chad Deity look good—the play brings to Off-Broadway a world that’s usually only seen on TV, and an adrenalin-rush more typical of the arena.
And that’s just what Diaz is going for. Recently, TDF spoke with him about why and how he wrote the show.
TDF: Do you have a personal connection to the world of professional wrestling?
Kristoffer Diaz: I’ve been a wrestling fan since I was five or six years old. I lived in an apartment building and my best friend lived downstairs, and for most of our youth we played with wrestling action figures, exactly as Mace did in the play.
When I got older, wrestling video games became more sophisticated and you could create your own wrestlers, figure out their stories and what it is that they want. In wrestling, that’s usually really clear: They either want to win the title or they want to get revenge. Later on, I realized that’s really helpful when you’re writing a play, giving your characters something clear to pursue.
TDF: But of course the “wants” of your characters get more complex in Chad Deity.
KD: Things get more complicated if you start to consider the political and social factors behind things. When I started writing this play in 2005 or 2006, I wanted to write about wrestling—the whole “write what you know” thing—but at the same time, I was more immediately concerned with political process and the American theatre.
TDF: How does the play address your concerns with the American theatre?
KD: I think we’ve fallen into plays being a few characters sitting around a kitchen table or on a couch, talking about their feelings. That’s great, but there are other ways to pursue a theatrical event. The emotion that you feel at a sports event is completely different from the emotion that you feel in the theatre. I wanted to hopefully combine the two, to pursue some of those unique visceral reactions you get in sports.
TDF: The show feels larger than what’s happening on stage, particularly with your use of video to depict the wrestlers traveling to the theatre, and the way they enter down the aisles and interact with the audience.
KD: The film and video allowed us to get out and use New York as a character. That’s something we could talk about on stage, but couldn’t really do. But then we also wanted to do what theatre does best, and that’s getting right next to somebody in the audience, in some cases making them have an actual physical relationship to the characters on stage.
TDF: What have some of the audience reactions been?
KD: Some of the most profound comments about the play came from a group of high school students from the Bronx, who saw the show as part of Second Stage’s Second Generation program. The first guy who spoke during the talkback was sixteen or seventeen years old, and he stood right up and said he was a child of Dominican immigrants and that he saw his own story in the play, in the decisions you have to make (as the child of immigrants) about being true to yourself or pursuing the goals of somebody else.
TDF: Is that a theme you intended from the start, or did it emerge with the story?
KD: The play started out being about feeling like you’ve worked hard—and are good at something—but are underappreciated for reasons outside of your control. That factors into larger questions of culture and economic class. I set out to write something personal, but a lot of times what’s personal becomes political, too.
TDF: Is it just younger people who are responding to the play, or are older audience members appreciating it, too?
KD: People think they’re not wrestling fans or they’re not young Puerto Rican men, so they’re not going to like it. I sometimes jokingly say: I’m not a Danish Prince, and I don’t talk like Shakespeare’s characters do, but I can still appreciate Hamlet Once they sit down and watch it, people always find things that they connect to in this play, which has been really exciting.
Kathryn Walat is a New York-based playwright, whose latest work is entitled CREATION.
(Photo credit: Cast members Desmin Borges and Terence Archie; photo by Joan Marcus)