PSJA Southwest High School senior Rafael Peña steps into a blizzard of shimmering confetti, dancing before taking off and throwing his sleeveless jacket. He descends the platform, his gaudy gold chain swaying as he grooves and flexes through the bright lights on his way to the wrestling ring.
Peña portrays the antagonist and titular character in the dramatic comedy “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.” Written by Kristoffer Diaz, the play was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for drama and is loosely based on the lives of current Latino professional wrestlers, said Theatre Director at PSJA Southwest Charlie Palacios.
“Chad Deity” ended it’s scheduled run last week, but added two dates for Thursday and Friday.
The show is particularly relevant, Palacios said, because of the “political and racist ties it has to it. This was a perfect time to do it.”
Palacios grew up a wrestling fan and said the production was on his radar for a few years. It wasn’t until he walked into the school’s recently assembled black box theater that he realized it was possible.
Located in a spacious room used for meetings and luncheons, the department recently installed risers and discarded seats from PSJA North.
“They were throwing them out and we said we’d take them,” he said. “They installed risers and transformed the space into a legit performing black-box space.
“Slowly, we realized the goldmine that we had here, performance-wise.”
Peña’s entrance takes him through the crowd, allowing for an immersive experience for the audience akin to “an independent wrestling space,” Palacios said.
“This is the only true black box in PSJA, and we want to take full advantage of that,” he said. “I think this show is the show to prove that.”
Producing a physical performance like “Chad Deity” is challenging, said the team. It’s different than stage combat used in most plays.
“You should physically never be hitting one another, but you should be as close as possible,” Palacios said. “When actors fall in a typical production, they spread the impact to minimize the potential damage.
“In a ring, in a wrestling match, you need to attack the mat.”
Actors in “Chad Deity” worked with a professional wrestler to learn how to safely make contact with punches, kicks and slams.
“After a while, it does become stressing to the body,” said sophomore Christopher Nicanor, who plays the protagonist Macedonio Guerra. “However, once you come in here and start slapping a few times, it feels great. It makes your body come alive.”
The most difficult move is the headscissors, where Nicanor “dives in the air, puts his legs around my neck and then I have to throw him aside,” Peña said. He then flips in one fluid motion.
“You have to make sure you’re communicating with … whoever you’re fighting with,” Nicanor said. “If one person doesn’t know what’s going on, then it’s all going to end up going wrong.”
The most important thing, they said, is the safety of your fellow cast members. During the play, they perform moves that could get either participant severely injured.
“The biggest thing was protecting each other — knowing how he’s going to jump and how he’s most comfortable doing it,” Peña said. “It’s not necessarily about entertaining. It’s not about how cool it looks.
“That’s not the priority.”
Freshman Anthony Migliore isn’t a stranger to the ring. His dad is currently the general manager with the indie wrestling outfit performing at Cine El Rey.
“When I was very young, my father put me in the ring,” he said. “I started learning everything.”
The hardest thing for his castmates to learn, he said, was taking “bumps, …. (which) are like when you hit your back on the mat.”
Peña had never been a fan of professional wrestling.
“I think that’s why I’m so fond of the show. If you look at it now… it’s about two guys getting together and making this art,” he said. “It’s completely different than I thought it would be, and I appreciate it a lot more than I did before.
“There’s a line in the show, and it’s completely true. ‘It’s about the communion.’”
IF YOU GO
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday
WHERE: PSJA Southwest’s Black Box Theatre, 300 E. Rancho Blanco Rd., Pharr, TX 78577