Review: Paolino and his gang are great in “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity”

Want to be in a play?

You don’t have to audition, get the part, or rehearse.

Just go to “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” playing through March 23 at CAST in Charlotte. It’s very theatrical, and you’ll be in it.

As a member of the audience, you get to play the part of a wrestling fan. In this bizarre piece of engaging, high energy theater, the characters interact with the audience more than they do with each other.

When they speak, it’s mostly to us, the audience, with a collection of soliloquies, or side talking as they sit among us, or having conversation as they move through the house.

When they connect with each other, it’s less words and more physical — with body slams, power bombs, and kicks.

Bob Paolino, Michael Smallwood, and J.R. Jones in “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety.”

Yes, you’re watching something — and you’re inside the experience of a scripted show with people performing around you.

It’s done in the round. The entire set is a wrestling ring. The play, written by Kristoffer Diaz, was a 2010 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in drama.

Bob Paolino, of Salisbury, plays EKO, the sleazy mastermind behind all this fakery. For him, diversity in America is an opportunity to create bad guys, attract fans, and cash in on America vs. Everybody Else. With a cigar in his mouth and a wad of money in his fist, he gives a dynamic, comic performance that fills the room. When you step into to the ringside space, Paolino, who plays the owner of THE Wrestling, becomes your Maitre ‘D. You may even experience a swell of Salisbury pride.

Occasionally, the microphone descends from the ceiling and into the ring, and we get a booming announcement from EKO or one of these colorful wrestling personalities..

Michael Smallwood plays MACE, the lead narrator and sole authentic voice in this cartoony bunch. He’s the human glue, given by reluctant generosity, that gives life to this play and this production. MACE  gives us a peek into the world of a guy who wins by losing, the one with superior skill. His job is to lose to the American superstar Chad Deity, played by J.R. Jones. That takes humility and teamwork. He gets paid not with glory, but with the fulfillment of getting to do the thing he loves.

The smoke and lighting create glamour and thrill, but it would take film editing to make Chad Deity’s tooth emit a sparkle when he smiles and preens his biceps.  Jones is brave and corny enough to have you imagine it. Deity is the inferior athlete who revels in getting to win every time. He’s the lucky winner, a complete fake — and he brags about it.

Denny Valentin plays VP, the smaller but tougher “Fundamentalist” with an unusual set of charismatic gifts. He’s got an attitude that turns out to be a double edged sword — one moment the hero, the next moment the foil.

Amid all this charisma, farce, and humor, it’s easy to forget how physically amazing these performances are — and I almost did. Director Michael R. Simmons creates a swirl of words and drama and stage fighting (or wrestling) that’s more complicated than your basic stage play. It’s continuous motion, a choreographic achievement that’s so integral to the show that it’s easy to take for granted. These guys are not only telling us the stories of their lives, but they’re throwing each other around while they do it. Even Paolino, the old guy in the group, gets hammered to the mat.

So here we have a hundred people gathered around a wrestling ring at CAST — Carolina Actors Studio Theatre, for a bright, flamboyant evening of theatre. We have a superb show. It’s fun, real, and intimate — an example of excellent actors doing excellent work. In terms of numbers, that’s nothing compared to the millions who watch professional wrestling. Which is also theatre.

So why is one so much more popular than the other? With theatre, we know it’s not real. We’re told it’s not real. And we tell ourselves that, for a couple of hours, it is.

With professional wrestling, we’re asked to believe that it is real. We know it’s not. But nobody comes out of character in the end and takes a bow. If we want to pretend the whole thing is legit, we can. And some people do.

It’s reality television. We’re told it’s real and we love watching it, thinking it is, knowing it’s not.

So I’m here to say that there’s something about an actor being a human being first, and then a character, and then breaking with character and being him or herself again, that creates a new dimension and requires more from the audience. It’s all theatre, but when it’s on stage, it takes shape, and we, the audience, are asked to bring our own thought and creativity to the experience. We have to. Watching sport is awesome entertainment. Great theatre is that too, plus the chance to think, create, and transform ourselves.

“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through March 23 at the theater, 2424 North Davidson St. in Charlotte. Tickets cost between $18 and $28. They are available online at or by calling 704-455-8542. No late seating. This performance contains profanity, body slams, head locks, power-bombs, super-kicks and some sweet chin music. For more information, visit

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