The Elaborate entrance of Chad Diety
This is a play that desperately - wants to be a satire on American values, reflected through the faux posturing (and faux everything) of pro wrestling. Written by Kristoffer Diaz, it has all the elements of a potentially incisive look into the myths we all share (about race, among other things). It is particularly on target with the way wrestling creates heroes like the title character, played by Reginald McAlpine, and villains like the "Fundamentalist" (Prophet Seay, in an accent-challenged turn).
These "grudge matches" are of course simplistic, sort of the way Fox News covers politics, so the overall metaphor at work has promise. Trouble is, performing satire requires a production that is fine-tuned and consistent, otherwise it can easily turn into mush.
The Karamu cast under the direction of Terrence Spivey gives its all to this effort, and there are some well-ripped bods on display. But the show body-slams itself in too many ways to be very effective. The script is saddled with a ton of narration delivered direct to the audience by wrestler Macedonio Guerra (the "Mace"). These long monologues feel repetitive and unstructured, a challenge the earnest performer Davis Aquila never completely conquers. Indeed, some of the actors speak too rapidly and with less than precise diction while Mark Seven, as the wrestling manager Everett K. Olson, speaks slowly, with melodramatic gestures and facial expressions reminiscent of Lillian Gish. Over-the-top acting is fine in a satire, as long as everyone is along for the ride. Here, it seems everyone is doing his own play, and it never comes together. But kudos to scenic designer Richard H. Morris Jr. for creating a dramatic set including a true-to-life, full-size wrestling ring. (Christine Howey)
Through April 6 at Karamu House, 2355 East 89th St., 216-795-7077, karamuhouse.org.
Made in America
First, a confession: I love plays and movies about salespeople. It's a small and strange thematic niche, to be sure, but I'm all over any show that deals with people selling things to other people — whether it the siding salesmen in the flick Tin Men, William H. Macy's car salesman in Fargo, or the den of nefarious realtors in Glengarry Glen Ross.
So maybe that's why I really like Made in America by local playwright Joel Hammer, now at Dobama Theatre. This two-hander focuses relentlessly on a million-dollar piping deal being negotiated for a huge government project, and the customer Barry (played by Hammer) holds all the cards. Esther (Colleen Longshaw) is an African-American woman who is trying to nail down the sale after many months of effort. But Barry turns out to be a sleazebag who is after more than a lower price. After an Act 1 scene in a bar, where drinks flow as fast as innuendoes, the play, um, climaxes in Esther's hotel room where many secrets are revealed.
Hammer's overall conceit is clever and his dialogue mostly rings true. And director Scott Miller maintains the tension that is critical to the piece, bringing fine performances out of his actors. But playwright Hammer eventually gets a bit too cute with the surprise twists and turns in the play's waning moments, calling into question the veracity of what we're seeing. That may be his message, that it's all a game, but the takeaway is less effective if neither person really has anything at stake. (Howey)
Through April 6 at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-932-3396, dobama.org.