When Eric Seale became artistic director of Actors Guild of Lexington in 2010, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz was the first show he tried to bring to the theater.
Freshly nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for drama, the play's rights at the time were with the playwright, with whom Seale had nearly inked a deal before Samuel French snagged the rights and negotiations had to begin anew.
"It has all of the elements I look for in a comedy," says Seale, who directs the show, which opens this week and runs through Sept. 6. "I look for shows that are really funny but also have these deeper layers ... that I can really play with."
Because Chad Deity is about professional television wrestling, that statement might come as a surprise, but Seale says that Diaz's comedy is a smart exploration of one extreme facet of the American dream. Wrestling characters embody crude but potent cultural tropes stirring around in the American psyche. It might be easy to dismiss them as low-brow fluff, but there is something deeper at play.
And ironically, the play's hero, Chad Deity, shares the same professional goal as Seale.
"There's a line in the show where Mace says something like, 'All I want to do is tell a great ---damn story,' Seale says, "and that's essentially what I am trying to do in the theater."
"I am always searching for the perfect story," says Seale, who continued to find connections between the pro-wrestling industry and theater.
One of those connections? Terminology. Both theater and wrestling how their own distinctive chatter, some similar and some different.
Seale brought in local professional wrestler "Captain Redneck" Bob Murdoch to consult on the wrestling aspects of the show. Yes, there is actual wrestling on stage, including a match before each show's 8 p.m. curtain time.
"One of the first things I noticed is that we use some of the same terms," Seale says.
For instance, in both wrestling and theater, the apron is the part of the performance area that extends into the audience.
Despite the similarities between theater and professional wrestling, there are some big differences both in terminology and in staging techniques.
For instance, stage combat techniques used in the theater are designed to do no harm to the performer when executed properly. With professional wrestling, the performers really do take a little bit more of a beating, even if there are techniques in place to minimize impact.
"When I first started working with Bob (Murdoch), I showed him some of our stage combat techniques and he said 'wow, you all are really nice to each other,'" Seale says.
The professional wrestling industry also has a bevy of terms that are not found in the theater world, including mark, smark, face, heel and kayfabe.
"A lot of these terms go all the way back to carnival days," Seale says, "so there is a really fascinating history there."
For instance, kayfabe is an old carnival word that in professional wrestling refers to the illusion that the characters and story lines are literally real. To break kayfabe is an industry taboo.
Another carnival term is mark. That is the person or audience being worked by the performer. Fans who know the action is fake but enjoy it are called smarks: smart marks.
A jobber is a wrestler who loses to elevate the stardom of another wrestler.
"Being a jobber actually takes even more skill than winning," Seale says. One of the play's characters, Mace, refers to himself as "jobber to the stars."
A hero or star is referred to as a face, and the bad guy or loser is the heel. A wrestler's character might switch from face to heel many times throughout his career, another of those "deeper layers" that first appealed to Seale years ago.