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On the Culture Front: The Housewives of Mannheim and the Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

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Alan Brody's smart new play The Housewives of Mannheim feels like a cross between Mad Men and The L Word. It focuses on May, a young blonde woman who has a personal awakening while her husband is overseas fighting in World War II. After going to a museum on a whim one day, she becomes fascinated with subjective perspectives and the ability of an artist to capture a moment from a unique vantage point. She's particularly fascinated by the Vermeer painting from which the play gets its title. Using the painting as a metaphor for her transformation becomes a bit heavy handed (especially in the final tableau), but the result is mostly very powerful due to an excellent cast led by Pheonix Vaughn who resembles Scarlett Johansson but has a much more expressive face. She exudes a seductive innocence that's very powerful and perfect for her role as a woman who's world is suddenly expanded, forcing her to choose between upholding the status quo or embracing her newfound but socially unacceptable desires.

Alan Brody's script is so well written that scenes flow seamlessly from one to another building up an incredible momentum to a magical climax at the end of the first act. Unfortunately, the second act gets slightly bogged down with melodrama as the women blurt out many of their intimate thoughts to each other. This is a small quibble though, and overall this is a very powerful evening at the theater.

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is a new kind of theater - visceral, fast-paced, and almost cinematic in its presentation of images. A large wresting ring occupies most of the stage where larger-than-life characters (who also happen to be racial stereotypes) battle it out in an exhilarating, satiric fight sequences choreographed by fight director David Woolley. The title character is a chiseled faux athlete who hangs out with Derek Jeter and is the face of the fictitious organization The Wrestling. He was chosen to win all the fights by the Boss, Everett K. Olson (who goes by the abbreviation E.K.O) much to the dissatisfaction of Macedonio Guerra, a more talented but less showy performer who lets himself be beat by Deity for the amusement of the crowd. There's a great give and take between the two, and Guerra is also an engaging if not always reliable narrator who takes us through this world of illusions. He introduces us to Vigneshwar Paduar, the latest addition to The Wrestling, who shakes up the dynamics of the show by following his own script.

Playwright Kristoffer Diaz's words engage with flair, but thankfully, he lets the action speak for itself. There's an undercurrent of racial tension that plays out beautifully and never becomes heavy handed due to the concise dialogue as well a universally talented cast and Edward Torres' inventive direction. Still, there any many missed opportunities. The characters are so vivid that spending time with them is a complete joy, but the second act is rushed and would benefit from more plot build up and the fleshing out of the characters lives outside of the ring, particularly the Deity. He talks about meeting women with his pal Jeter, but it'd be nice to see some of these interactions. I could imagine a lot of comic potential as well as getting to see another layer of the egomaniacal Deity, which would strengthen the climax of the show. Nonetheless, it's absolutely refreshing to see a new kind of theater especially one that's as enjoyable to watch as Chad Deity. Could we hope for a sequel?

On another note, theatrical composer Corey Dargel released a new double album this week culled from a couple of his recent shows. The songs are terrific, and you can hear a couple of them on my blog, nyculturenerd.com, where I'm giving away a copy to one lucky winner.