By Paul Caputo and Jeffrey Carl
Our first Theatre review, on the appearance of WWF Raw! at the Richmond Coliseum. Most exquisite abstract-art theatre. Actually, I think this was our second-funniest column ever. But I don’t remember this event. In retrospect, it’s entirely possible that only Paul actually ever went to WWF RAW and that I just wrote my parts based on snarky preconceived notions about wresting and its fans. In fact, most of my writing in this period is slathered with contempt for people who were socioeconomically different from me. So, if this is/was you, I apologize in advance.
Hi. We are Jeff “The Berserk Weasel” Carl and Paul “The Mollusk” Caputo. And we RULE!
The touring company of “WWF Monday Night RAW!” recently came to Richmond for a one-night-only performance. And these two reviewers have never seen a show that could compare to its power, energy and sheer number of times people were kicked in the face.
Wrestling has been part of High Culture since the first Olympics in 4 Trillion B.C., when Fabius “The Human Phalanx” Celsius defeated Brutus “The Dagger” Omnibus Cum Laude. Brutus’s manager, Aristotle “The Brain” Socrates then challenged Celsius to the first Pay-Per-View Grudge Match.
Things were different then: everyone was Greek, and also they may not have been faking it. But today, wrestling is the finest avant-garde (Serbian for “avocado gourd”) theater in the world. The modern wrestlers’ performances last Monday night were savage in their post-modernist sarcasm. The Heroes – tragic anti-heroes, really – were garbed in costumes of such astonishing tackiness that it looked as if someone had stuck a peacock in a blender, then stapled the purée to Spandex. The Bad Guys were equally vile, reminescent of Keanu Reeves in Little Buddha. Especially notable was Gary Ramirez in a cameo role as The No-Name Guy Who Gets the Holy Bejeezus Beat Out of Him by One of the Stars.
The first sign that Professional Wrestling is artificial is that it was sponsored in part by “News Channel” 6. If you have ever watched Channel 6, you know that their reporters are made out of a semi-realistic foam rubber compound. The part of “Charles Fishburne” is played by a clever trained weasel.
The most brilliant part of the performance was that when we arrived, the seats were already filled with “fans” there to make it look like an Actual Sporting Event. Their portrayal of rabidly overexcited Drooling Zombies was brilliant. We’re sure they were actors, because they couldn’t have been real. There were several brilliantly-timed lines from these performers, like “C’mon Ref!” “Now git ‘im this time!” and “If I eat one more Blue Icey Treat, I’m going to throw up!” Okay, that last one was Paul.
The choreography was brilliantly chaotic, savagely modérne, a cross between Bob Fosse and “Godzilla versus Mothra.” It was like a grand ballet, except you kick people in the face.
At the end of matches, the “fans” would rush, like a swarm of crazed bees with “Love Me Some Skoal” tattoos, to line the corridor where the next wrestler would appear. They apparently sensed when to do this with special chromosomes that the rest of us don’t have … or maybe it’s the other way around. For a moment, we were convinced that we were at an Actual Sporting Event, albeit one in Hell.
Paul lost a coin flip and had to go interview some Actual Wrestling Fans. They said inspiring things like “Benny ‘The Flying Carp’ Zambesi RULES!” and “Whooooo!”
The WWF “fans” demonstrated their manic enthusiasm by breaking out the crayons and making signs to hold up in case they got on TV. The Coliseum was filled with colorful if unintelligible signs: “Richmond Likes it RAW!” “Gorrilla Monsoon For President!” and “News Channel 6: ‘Coverage You Can Count On!’”
Some “fans” were particularly compelling. In the third row there was a grotesquely obese man wearing (True Fact!) a cardboard Burger King crown, who whistled to the wrestlers and danced sometimes. A truly brutal commentary on Materialism and Greed. Jeff has never been so disturbed in his entire life.
Also, there were two really cute girls holding up signs. They weren’t a comment on anything, but we spent a lot of time watching them, just in case.
Whenever the “fans’” “favorite” “wrestlers” appeared, thousands cheered wildy, and hundreds of otherwise-dormant brain cells leapt into action. The critique of totalitarian socialism was savage. The entire arena looked like a horde of Berserk Redneck Mongolian Warlords, dredged from the shallow end of the gene pool and oozing lumpily up the walls of the Coliseum.
The Coliseum Staff was in on the act as well, giving us a thrill-packed adventure before the match when we tried to pick up our press passes. The Sluglike Woman (a brilliant cameo!) in the Box Office told us to go to the Lower Concourse. (The scenery downstairs involved a lone befuddled guard sitting amidst whistling wind and tumbleweeds in a vast, open, entirely press pass-less space. A bit overdone. Really.) The Lower Concourse Office told us to go upstairs. The Upstairs Office told us to go to the Box Office. The Box Office told us to go to Hell.
Eventually we pestered Slug Woman (and her sidekick, Sloth Cashier) to call a Box Office Manager, so that she could go back to her other valuable work, cracking walnuts with her skull. We think they never found our press reservations – the Manager just gave us tickets so we would go away.
We wonder if they do this stuff to the Times-Dispatch.
But the really moving performances were in the ring. The Referee was vital: he was Everyman; he was blind Justice; he was obviously drunk. The “rules” are strict: whenever ANYONE breaks even a tiny rule, the referee MUST grimace and MAKE A STERN GESTURE imitating the infraction, then stare at the ceiling and PICK HIS NOSE while one wrestler’s manager beats the other wrestler SENSELESS with a POLO MALLET.
The first match was Enormous Fat Man (played by Chris Farley) and his Flamboyant Manager (Elton John) versus Flamboyant Wrestler (An Overgrown Mutated Weasel) and his Enormous Fat Manager (the late Orson Welles). The wrestlers’ repertoires included a wide range of professional wrestling moves, such as the Almost-A-Punch, the Flying Buttress, the Body Slam, the Denny’s Combo Melt Slam! and the ubiquitous Clutch-Your-Face-When-The-Other-Guy-Pretends-To-Punch-You.
WWF Heavyweight Champion Brett “The Large Intestine” Harte gave a stirring soliloquiy. Unfortunately, he gave it in a high-pitched yell, about half an inch from the microphone, so what the audience heard was “BLAPHT SZZGRBL kill PHLORGM! NRZBT “WWF” LIPPY-GORPLER! Minnesota Timberwolves GRLOOOMP!! FNNGVLST MRDLUNHGP existentialism PHLURG quantum physics HNFF fin-de-síecle London GNRKLTNDFMG Super Size McBHRLTLTHOKKKK!!!!!” Still, it was pretty inspiring.
One wrestler, who we think was named “Mister Savage,” or possibly “Bert,” appeared in a cloud of smoke and walked directly toward his first opponent, “USA Network Camera Man.” Savage Guy (or whatever) intimidated Camera Guy by screaming at him unintelligibly and covering him with spittle, often in large gobs. Then he got in the ring and kicked somebody in the face.
One wrestler was really hurt during the performance – the Martha Graham Dance Company also faces many such injuries during a season – and the WWF Emergency Medical Response Team (four fat guys with a stethoscope) sprang into action several beers later. This must have been very reassuring to the injured man (“Don’t worry! There are FAT MEN coming to help you!”), since he lay motionless and didn’t try to crawl to a hospital. Delicious satire on health-care reform.
The show’s climax is the GREATEST EVENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE. The three-hour web of intrigue and colorful Underoos™ that the cast had been weaving all night drew to a Shakespearean finale of Faustian conflict, Herculean effort and kicking people in the face. It was, uh … well … you know. Okay, so we left early.
What conclusions can we draw from all this?
On the Bad Side, the utterly seamless performance may have left some viewers with the misapprehension that it was real. Plus some people may be allergic to bizarrely-costumed homoeroticism.
On the Good Side, we were getting paid for this.