The American Dream goes to the mat in "The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” Friday at the Hippodrome
Flashing lights, larger-than-life personalities and intoxicating energy. As the fighters take the ring, audiences are consumed by the vicious rivalries and suddenly forget they are at the theater.
The knockout production, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” takes the stage at the Hippodrome Theatre in downtown Gainesville Friday, Jan. 27 , through Feb. 12.
The play, written by Kristoffer Diaz, uses professional wrestling as a comedic analogy for sophisticated themes of stereotyping and capitalism in America.
Tickets for the show are available on the Hippodrome website. Ticket prices range from $50 to $55 for adults, $40 for seniors and veterans, and $20 for students.
Stephanie Lynge, the Hippodrome's artistic director, explained how the dramatic comedy engages and challenges audiences with thought-provoking lessons about individualism.
“It’s an allegory of what you’re willing to give up to pursue your American Dream,” she said. “How do you keep what you are and become what you want to be?"
Between the real wrestling on stage and the authentic voices used to tell this story, the play is a unique theatrical experience with the blending of art forms, Lynge said. An esteemed director was sought out to bring this '‘almost heartbreaking story’' to life, she said, and his ability to depict the immigrant journey is highly anticipated.
“As a white woman, that doesn't feel like a story I have the most input in telling,” she said. “You are laughing until the moment you catch your breath and go, ‘oh.'”
Director Alberto Bonilla has spent time working in New York City, and this is his first time directing on the Hippodrome stage. His passion for storytelling, wrestling and educating enables him to gain personal and professional fulfillment in this position, he said.
“It’s one of the few stories that approach stereotype and racism and culture in a really fun, exciting, theatrical way that the message gets across, but you still are very entertained,” he said.
Bonilla explained the importance of this production in today’s current political and economic climate. The country is frequently wrestling with finding a median between good and evil while corporations are profiting, he said.
“This play is focused on the golden age as well as the WWE attitude era where things got really extreme,” he said. “Right now, this country is at extremes.”
The set was inspired by Madison Square Garden, and the stage has been transformed into a rock concert or even WrestleMania, he said. As the audience enters, people will be captivated by the giant flat-screen televisions, metal bars and a ring built to specification.
Bonilla said choreographer and professional wrestler Leon Scott told him that the ring is better than some of the rings he has wrestled in across the country.
The writing and physicality of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize Finalist make the show challenging and rewarding for the cast. Although this isn’t the title character Jonathan Bangs’ first time in the spotlight, he integrated into his routine twice daily yoga, weightlifting and wrestling three times a week to master this role.
“In this show, we’re actually doing body slams, taking body slams, doing power bombs. People are getting powerbombs, and these are real volatile wrestling movements in the ring that we are fully executing," he said. “And then we have to do a monologue afterward. That’s different.”
Bangs elaborated on how the humanity of the show is what makes it a valuable story. Each character is in the pursuit of something different in life, and the idea of just trying to stay afloat resonates with audiences, he said.
Students entering the real world must possess a level of humility and compassion, and this production teaches the necessity of these qualities through the immoral and corrupt characters that are out for themselves, Bangs said.
The opening of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” has the student population at the University of Florida buzzing, and theater and wrestling fans alike are fascinated with this interactive and entertaining experience coming to Gainesville.
UF College of Journalism and Communications student and theater enthusiast Livv Haut said she was thrilled to hear about the launch of this new production so close to home. Despite her choice to pursue telecommunications in college, it brings her nostalgia to watch plays as opposed to participating in them, she said.
“In high school, our theater department let us go to Santa Fe and actually do a cattle call experience for colleges. And while we were there, our theater teacher brought us to a show at the Hippodrome,” she said. “It was the first time I ever saw a performance there, and it was really cool.”
The message behind the show is also enticing to Haut as she appreciates the deeper themes depicted through the storytelling. As a politically active individual, constantly learning more surrounding these issues is vital to her expression of the arts and fulfillment of civic duty, she said.
“It had a lot of stuff about social commentary on racial structures, and how the media uses it to sensationalize wrestling characters, and it seems pretty interesting,” she said. “I haven’t really known about this kind of thing in media, so it does really interest me to go because it will give me a perspective I’ve never looked into before."
Opening night is at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27 on the main stage at the Hippodrome Theater. The play's other performances are Wednesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.
There will be a talkback with the actors on Feb. 5 after the 2 p.m. performance.
“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” uses strong language and mild adult themes, according to the Hippodrome website, so parental guidance is suggested. The show includes strobes, subwoofers under the seats, haze, bright/flashing lights and fog.
Parking and safety protocol information is available online. Tickets are available at
“That energy, that visceral experience of being in the room and taking that journey with our experience is something [audiences] will never experience anywhere else,” Lynge said.