Coal Miner’s Son

But when he meets a trash-talking Indian-American Brooklyn basketball star known as VP (Usman Ally), he sees a way to make the two of them stars. THE’s chief, the Vince MacMahon-like Everett K. Olson (Michael T. Weiss), sees only two brown-skinned performers, and, knowing his audience’s tastes, turns the Indian into an Arab and the Puerto Rican into a Mexican, together an odd but appropriately menacing “Axis of Enemy Combatants” (the French are somehow involved, too).

Playwright Kristoffer Diaz delivers a steady pounding of virtuosic jabs. He lampoons the buffoonery of pro wrestling; he gives Mace deliciously complex narrative soliloquies; he also makes the whole thing a microcosm of how the country works. It’s surely no accident that the public face of the machine is a charming and handsome, articulate and nonthreatening black man, or that Everett K. Olson, like Roger Ailes, solves any situation by packaging the other as an enemy and bringing out the Stars and Stripes.

There’s a wrestling ring onstage and huge video monitors above it, and director Edward Torres nimbly moves his actors in and out of that ring and into and out of the cartoonish idiom of pro wrestling. The cast, largely new to New York, is deeply charismatic and very funny. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is-sorry for this-a knockout blow.

 

TWO PLAYS OPENED downtown a week ago tonight, both by well-known New York theater fixtures, that both competently and sometimes engagingly tell the same story: A professionally failing and emotionally shut-off New Yorker travels somewhere else, has an intense experience and returns home having learned to love.

In Claudia Shear’s Restoration, at New York Theatre Workshop, that somewhere else is Florence, where Giulia, the art restorer Ms. Shear plays, is cleaning Michelangelo’s David in advance of its 500th birthday; in Adam Rapp’s The Metal Children, the somewhere else is Midlothia, “a small community in the American heartland,” as the program informs us, where a young-adult novel by Tobin Falmouth (a wonderful Billy Crudup) has been banned by the school board.

But if the two plays’ resolutions are similar, their paths there are not.

 

RESTORATION is predictable. It has stock characters-a dashing Italian security guard who flirts with all the girls but secretly loves his wife and the David; a florid, wise art professor who is secretly dying; a gorgeous and rich Florentine art patron who secretly wants to be loved. Cleaning the statue, and talking with a seeming Lothario, Giulia lets down her defenses, drops her edge. In the final scene, she even puts on a pretty dress.

 

METAL CHILDREN STARTS off stock and predictable-stoner writer, messy apartment, pending divorce, flamboyant gay agents-but goes in wildly unexpected directions once Tobin gets to Midlothia, where the town is terrorized by values-enforcing teenaged thugs in Porky Pig masks and the liberal girls are plotting to impregnate themselves and move to a sort of gyno-commune in Iowa. The book stays banned, but Tobin encounters real people, for whom his work means something. In the final scene, he has combed his hair and tidied his apartment.

Mr. Rapp’s play is sprawling, messy and sometimes implausible, but it’s also very compelling. Ms. Shear’s is well constructed and far too neat.

editorial@observer.com