The art and artifice of professional wrestling writ large at The Hipp

Director Alberto Bonilla brandishes a championship professional wrestling belt…a prop from the Hippodrome’s upcoming production of “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.” And make no mistake: This “prop,” like much else you will experience during this play, is the real deal.

Leon Scott is not your average choreographer.

He is, in fact, a professional wrestler of 20 years. Leon “Ravage” has a ring reputation for “sheer brutality” and specializes in delivering the dreaded “Reverse Crucifix Ace Crusher.”

But we all know that the “art” of professional wrestling is every bit as choreographed as anything you will see on stage during a performance of “Swan Lake.”

And so of late, Leon has been spending his, um, “down time,” (he’s sidelined from his day job due to injury) teaching a bunch of actors how to throw each other around, kick each other to the ground, stomp on each other’s crumpled bodies and otherwise practice the fine art and artifice of professional wrestling.

All without actually hurting each other.

“I don’t know why it takes like 20 super kicks to take this guy down,” Scott jokes after running two thespian/grapplers through the moves of a competent killer kick multiple times.

Sidelined from his day job in professional wrestling, Scott has been conducting a wrestling “boot camp” for the actors in the Hipp’s upcoming play.

The “Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” is a dark comedy by Kristoffer Díaz that focuses on professional wrestling as a lens through which to view the American dream, corporate greed, our unslakable thirst for heroes and villains and – well, pretty much life, the universe and everything when you come right down to it.

One does not simply hurl one’s opponent into the ropes and expect one’s opponent to naturally bounce back and straight into another strike. The laws of physics and the inevitability of gravity require considerable orchestration.

“There is so much polarization in our politics and our culture,” says director Alberto Bonilla. “Wrestling is a reflection of what’s happening in America today. It’s even more relevant now, when you think about everything you see in images. There’s a deeper story behind what are you being fed and what you believe.”

“You can’t kick a guy’s ass without the help of the guy whose ass you’re kicking.” Words to live by.

Oh, and Leon isn’t the only wrestling pro associated with this Hipp production. One of the actors, Jose DeGracia, aka “The Bad Guy” (Boo! Boo!), is himself a Jacksonville-based wrestler.

“I’ve been wrestling for 13 years,” he said. “This play has really struck a chord with me. I identify with this main character incredibly well.”

And talk about being all in. “Even after rehearsal,” DeGracia said, “we’re going back to my place, going over wrestling moves and watching wrestling videos.”

In wrestling as in life there are winners and losers. The difference is that in wrestling, the winners and losers are pre-cast, often based on racial and ethnic stereotypes.

“There are a lot of layers in this play,” says Bonilla. “People are gonna laugh, they’re gonna gasp when they hit each other. And then, if they are entertained, they will leave with the message that this is real wrestling.”

And, by extension, real life.

“I’ve always enjoyed mentoring,” says Leon “I work with young people who are trying to break into wrestling, and every one of these guys is far superior to the average class of wrestlers I break in. It feels like wrestling.”

Although there are designated villains in the ring, Everette K. Olson is the real villain in the play. “He uses America’s fears in the wrestling ring to sell tickets,” says David Patrick Ford, who plays Olson.

“My whole idea of wrestling has been turned on its head,” he added “There is such an athleticism to it. It looks vicious but nobody is trying to hurt anybody. We have become such a family.”

“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” runs from January 27 to February 12, with previews January 25-26. Tickets and information are available on The Hipp’s web page.

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