Playwright: Kristoffer Diaz. At: Victory Gardens Theatre at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln. Phone: 773-871-3000; $30-$48. Runs through: Nov. 1
Requiem for a Heavyweight ends with its broken-down pugilist being offered a job in pro wrestlingplaying an "Indian Chief," whose role is to be defeated by a paleface opponent. In Kristoffer Diaz's play, the favored champion is Chad Deity, the picture of African-American martial perfection, replete with gleaming muscles, sweet smile, nebulous brains and no athletic prowess whatsoever. His claim to glory instead relies on the talents of Macedonio Guerraprofessional name, "Mace"whose genuine skills permit him to lose spectacularly to the popular Deity. This arrangement is acceptable to a poor Puerto Rican boy from the Bronx, but the newest contendera South Asian lad from Brooklyn re-imagined as the hybrid Middle-Eastern "Fundamentalist" whose "sleeper cell" kick vanquishes all foesis not so enamored of a career in show business.
If you haven't yet spotted a metaphoror two, or threeyou're not alone. Wrestling fans, declares the savvy impresario, are only willing to overlook the sport's essential artifice for as long as it reflects their own fantasies of good guy/bad guy justice. To prove it, Teatro Vista director Edward Torres converts the entire Victory Gardens auditorium into a gladiatorial arena, where fighters careen around the room in "elaborate entrance" rampages before spilling their violent discord down the aisles in a storm of flying sweat. And we eat it upin great guzzling gulps.
What transforms a crowd of jaded urban theatergoers into slack-jawed rubes whowhen our narrator says, "The crowd gasps"obediently suck air? There's the visceral power of David Woolley's fights, of course, even as the text reveals the adagio-dance behind the bash-and-crash ( in the ring, anyway ) . But what ensures our hearty endorsement of this hokum is the sheer charm of the cipher-rapping youths who snarl and grimace for the cameras ( operated onstage in real time by John Boesche ) , but who are revealed to be merely eager-to-please jamokes looking for a break.
Kamal Angelo Bolden postures with eager-to-please coquetry as the iconic Chad Deity, along with Christian Litke as his various challengers ( together comprising a burlesque-show display of beefcake ) , while Usman Ally projects feline charisma as the sardonic Vigneshwar Paduar. And James Krag embodies the greedhead bosses who sign the checks. But it's Desmin Borges who breaks our hearts as the humble Latino storyteller whose dreams are thwarted by a social system content to traffic in easy stereotypes for a gullible public.