‘The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity’
Through Sept. 30
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D Street, NW (7th & D)
In the high drama world of professional wrestling, James Long is better known as Paredyse. With peacock-colored eye makeup, skimpy trunks and painted nails, this self-described “fabulous, flamboyant, femmeboy phenom” isn’t your everyday wrestler.
He prances and flirts, occasionally stroking a vexed opponent’s rippling abs before executing a devastating missile drop kick; but unlike the gender-bending villains of wrestling past, Paredyse is the baby-faced fan favorite.
For Long, who graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor of fine arts degree before sashaying into the wrestling ring, Paredyse is partly an exercise in creative expression.
“When you start in the business your character is vanilla, you’re just a cog in the wheel used to build up more veteran wrestlers,” says Long, who is rumored to be straight but opts not to reveal his orientation during his interview with the Blade. “But as time passes, an evolution takes place and you’re able to develop your own character by trying out new things, and eventually people come to know and hopefully like him.”
Receptive to new challenges, Long is currently making his theatrical debut in Woolly Mammoth’s season opener “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” as both actor and wrestling trainer to the cast. Set against the pro wrestling scene, Brooklyn-based playwright Kristoffer Diaz’s critically acclaimed comedy tackles racism and the trappings of stardom. Woolly’s production, staged by top local director John Vreeke (who is gay), features company member Michael Russotto (also gay), Jose Joaquin Perez, Shawn T. Andrew and Adi Hanash.
Long plays three wrestlers: A generic villain; Billy Heartland, an all-American boy; and Old Glory, a sort of grizzled older guy wrapped in the flag. Making the jump from the wrestling ring to rehearsal room was relatively smooth, says Long, 30. “Wrestling may look disorganized and chaotic, but in fact it requires a lot of discipline, so it wasn’t hard for me to settle in and get to work. This is my first play ever. I tried out for ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in high school and didn’t make it so I figured theater wasn’t for me. I was wrong. The director and cast have been great about involving me in the process and allowing me to work on my characters. It’s been awesome.
“As far as wrestling on stage goes, we’re determined to make Woolly’s production a hard-hitting, unforgettable spectacle. It will feel real and not like staged combat. Audiences will see something new and amazing every night.”
Director John Vreeke says, “The performance parallels between the worlds of theater and wrestling are greater than most people think. [Long] is a natural performer … he does it every time he comes into a wrestling arena/ring. And it’s not just his athletic ability. It has more to do with his ability to improvise, play the audience and create character. He does all of that all the time. It’s a great fit for our work in theater.
“In addition,” adds Vreeke, “[Long] is our technical advisor on all levels of production: acting, lights, video and sound. He lets me know when we get it right.”
Long grew up in Woodbridge, Va. During his college years in Richmond he started wrestling in a hip, highly attended, late night underground league.
After graduation, he and a couple of buddies moved to St. Louis and began training in earnest. Soon Long began wrestling for Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW), an independent professional wrestling promotion best known as a proving ground for its up-and-coming wrestlers. OVW serves as the official developmental territory for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA).
Today, Paredyse boasts a big and growing following. Among his many female and male fans (better known as “Paresytes”) more than a few carry heavy torches for the brawny and heavily made-up wrestler. And many find Paredyse sexy and funny, his sissy shtick may not be for everyone. Asked how he’d respond to those who might find his creation an offensive stereotype, Long responds, “I’d mention the 18-year-old fan who told me that Paredyse inspired him to come out of the closet. Then I’d tell them about the mid-western and southern audiences who boo the homophobic wrestlers who are intolerant of Paredyse in the ring.
“Ultimately, I know it’s just wrestling, but when he’s not punching his opponents in the face, I hope Paredyse can help people to understand it’s cool to be you and not be ashamed of who you are.”