Driving down the I-95 towards the Legacy Theatre in Branford, Connecticut, there’s a certain irony in passing right by WWE Headquarters. Its dark, ominous flag waving in the June wind reminded me of Vince McMahon’s ruthless takeover of much of the pro wrestling world.
But nothing could prepare me for Masters of Puppets, a scathing, dark, and funny work written by Lawrence Davis tackling this intense corporate terrain.
Kurt Fuller and Amanda Detmer are wonderful as wrestling power couple Victor and Delia Kragston- clearly inspired by Vince and Linda McMahon. They’ve clawed their way to the top of the wrestling world, and now Delia craves even more power as she runs for the Senate in a tightly contested race.
It’s made clear that Victor will stop at nothing to keep his control of “the business,” and there’s nothing she won’t do- murder included- to get that coveted Senate seat while staying on top in pro wrestling.
While there’s no ring or actual wrestling in the show, much of it is set backstage at a live Madison Square Garden card, and such real-life icons as Ted Turner, The Undertaker, and others are the inspirations behind these characters.
Interestingly, the program has a page of wrestling jargon to ready non-fans for the dialogue. This brings up the biggest question I had after watching this involving quality work. Is a play based on pro wrestling commercially viable?
I saw Andy Kaufman and Debbie Harry in the ring on stage in Teaneck Tanzi and the Venus Flytrap on Broadway, but it unceremoniously closed on opening night. On the other hand, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity garnered a plethora of awards and praise and has mounted numerous productions. But it has not returned to New York since its 2010 Off-Broadway run. Yours truly produced An Evening With Johnny Valiant, which successfully ran at New York’s legendary Theater for the New City but struggled to get beyond that intimate space and one-nighters. Playwright & wrestler Jason Calabrese, aka Jason Static, has successfully mounted We Don’t Play Fight, and most recently, The Last Match: A Pro Wrestling Rock Musical has been making noise.
But the question remains- will wrestling fans en masse go to the theater, and will avid theater-goers be intrigued by pro-wrestling-related dramatic works?
And while I don’t have that answer, Masters of Puppets is most certainly worthy of support. The tightly directed work by Gabe McKinley will impressively keep you on the edge of your seat while simultaneously making you laugh. Fuller and Detmer chew up the scenery and are deliciously vile, and Dana Ashbrook, Michael Bobenhausen, Joshua Heggie, and Michael Hogan round out a stellar cast.
The show runs through June 11th. So whether you’re a wrestling fan, theater-lover, or both, I urge you to rush out and see Masters of Puppets.
Evan Ginzburg is the Senior Editor for Pro Wrestling Stories and has been a contributing writer since 2017. He’s a published author and was an Associate Producer on the Oscar-nominated movie “The Wrestler” and the acclaimed wrestling documentary “350 Days.” His Wrestling- Then & Now documentary can be seen on Amazon Prime, Tubi & Plex. He is a 30-plus-year film, radio, and TV veteran and a voice-over actor on the radio drama Kings of the Ring. He can be reached on Twitter @evan_ginzburg or by e-mail at [email protected].