“I wanted to write a play about wrestling,” said Kristoffer Diaz (BA ’99). “I had grown up watching professional wrestling, and while it’s kind of silly and ridiculous, there’s also something else there.” The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity wound up winning the 2008 National Latino Playwriting Award and being a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The New York Times called it a “delightfully muscular production” that “courses with the vital sap of an able-bodied satire enjoying a rollicking love-hate affair with its subject.”
In the play, Macedonio Guerra, a professional wrestler who goes by the stage name Mace, is a Puerto Rican from the Bronx who is the designated loser in the choreographed professional wrestling bouts. The victor is the black wrestler Chad Deity. Vigneshwar Paduar is an American of Indian descent from Brooklyn who is transformed into a wrestler called “the Fundamentalist,” a robe-wearing Muslim and a terrorist, as implied by his specialty, the “sleeper cell kick.”
Diaz says he was inspired to tackle notions of race in his play partly to address the latent racism in the theater world. An artistic director once told him, for example, that the only way he could do two plays by black playwrights in one season was if one of them was a musical and the other was by August Wilson. “I realized that there is really no such thing as a small, throwaway comment when it comes to race,” says Diaz.
Welcome to Arroyo’s, produced after The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, was his master’s thesis at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which he attended after graduating from Gallatin; it’s about a brother and sister who live on the Lower East Side, where their mother owns a bodega. When she dies, the brother turns it into a lounge. Though Diaz grew up in the suburbs of New York, he has family who live on the Lower East Side. “Now that neighborhood is sort of unrecognizable,” he says. “It’s figuring out its own identity.”
When Diaz began to look at colleges, he visited New York University and went on the tour of Gallatin almost on a whim. “Once we saw the school and met a few inspiring students, I thought: This is where I’m going. We’re done,” he says. At Gallatin, Diaz worked closely with Professor David Moore and Professor Michael Dinwiddie. “I was on the student advisory panel when Michael was hired,” says Diaz, “and I basically said you guys need to hire him because I need to take classes with him!”
Diaz initially thought he wanted to act, but a writing class with Lenora Champagne convinced him to write. After a stint teaching in a Brooklyn high school, Diaz turned to playwriting full time. Among his project was a commission for the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles called #therevolution, about social media and the role it can play in overthrowing and establishing government. “Two months after I finished writing the first draft all this turmoil in Egypt happened,” says Diaz. “It’s like I wrote a play about something I didn’t even know was going to happen!”