Creative Control: Actually, This Is Shakespeare (Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, John Cena, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt)

Well, this has certainly been an interesting week in the old world of professional wrestling. This week’s opening will be a bit longer than normal as I break a little from my usual format for a while and provide my opinion on the Rumble, the CM Punk situation, and the current signposts leading to Wrestlemania.

First, my take on the Rumble, which I watched while recovering from food poisoning that hit me on Saturday night. I watched it in a slightly delirious state having not slept the night before and spent most of the day in some level of pain and discomfort. I thought Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt told a great story with their brawl. It took me a while to get into it as I found it lacked a certain flow at first, but then realized they weren’t having a wrestling match, they were having a fight. Once that clicked, I got lost in it. I was not disappointed with Bryan losing, but more that the loss did not lead to a subsequent Rumble victory. His lost made sense to elevate Wyatt for his program with Cena. Brock Lesnar and Big Show could have been accomplished on Raw or Smackdown, not on a pay-per-view. I also had issue with the whole layout of the fight. Yes, Lesnar started nailing Show with the chair before the match bell officially rang, but before that, he was punching Show in the ring. How many times have we seen a wrestler bull rush his opponent the moment both are in the ring and the referee immediately calls for the bell to start the match? The fact the bell was not called for at the moment of contact just made the whole thing feel more contrived then usual and defied the established tenants of wrestling. If they really wanted to go the route they did for the match, I would have had Lesnar come out first, then have him charge Show as he was coming down the ramp. This lets Heyman bring a chair to him and start wailing on him, dragging Show to the ring to continue the beating. The post-match beating did not sell me on Lesnar’s beast status. I just found it monotonous closing in on uncomfortable. I actually faded in and out of consciousness during the Cena/Orton match, with the audience’s chanting being what held my attention. I actually was unaware of the ref bump and Orton’s use of the belt until I read Scott Keith’s recap on Monday morning.

As for the Rumble itself, it was okay. Someone here on Pulse noted it felt rushed with little time for moments or clear storyline bits to play out, and I agree with that. I think Punk was hurt for a part of it given the fact he spent a prolonged period just lying in a corner. Like everyone else, I was disappointed with the outcome and the lack of Daniel Bryan. However, there was plenty of black comedy derived from the fans expressing their displeasure as the later entrants came out.

So where does that leave things for the current fan favorite, Bryan? I do not think they are burying him as he is prominently featured on their programming. They have however, effectively ruined his hero arc that started at SummerSlam and should have culminated with him ending Wrestlemania WWE champion and leading the entire Superdome in the Yes chant. Can they still give him a title win sometime this year? Of course they can, but “the moment” is lost. Whenever he finally (if ever) wins the belt, it will not have that epic moment feeling because it did not occur at the apex of the industry. Even if they were to have him win it at Elimination Chamber (which I doubt is happening), that means he goes into the big show as the champion, fending off the challenger. A victory where he retains his title will still provide the visual moment, but the emotional reaction will just not be the same and the story will not be thought of in the same vain as with Shawn Michaels in 1996, Steve Austin in 1998, or Chris Benoit in 2004. Daniel Bryan won’t be the story remembered; it will be Vince, Triple H, and the rest of management and their miscalculation of fan reaction and what appeared to be a last minute decision to put the belt on him in hopes of not losing fans, buy rates, or subscriptions to the new WWE Network.

The thrill may be in the chase, but if the chase goes on for any much longer, fans will start to think it is for a wild goose and give up not on Bryan, but on WWE as a whole.

My thoughts on CM Punk’s departure: I cannot say 100% that it is legitimate, because after all in the wrestling industry, everything is about deception, half-truths, and illusion. My gut says it is real, but if it is a storyline, it won’t surprise me. I will say that if it is a storyline, I think it is the wrong one to run at the moment. Right now, the WWE fan base is a tinderbox of animosity and ennui. WWE is holding the match, hoping that the explosion they set off is an epic pyrotechnic display that results in epic ratings in the lead-up to Wrestlemania XXX, huge buy rates/international coverage of their signature event, and the white-hot premiere of their new Network. I am concerned though that they have incorrectly predicted how fans will react to being played and strung along and when they light the match, the whole thing blows up in their face leading to a drop off in ratings as people are bored with the build-up, a low buy rate for a Wrestlemania card no one is very interested in, and a boycott of the Network as fans finally break out of the abusive relationship. If Punk’s leaving is a storyline, I will have felt used, manipulated, and played for a sap. Entertainment is about manipulating the audience’s emotions; but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. And right now I feel like WWE are doing it the Max Power way.

As it stands, I will keep watching to see where they are going, but right now, I have no plan to watch Wrestlemania, even to watch the audience. I also have no plan to subscribe to the Network in the near future.

Second Thoughts:
Hardly surprising there was little response to my article from last week on hypothetical original programming for the WWE Network. It went up Monday morning following the Rumble while everyone was still worked up in their lather of anger, apathy, or whatever other negative emotion that was generated and wanted to espouse such feelings. CB liked the ideas of “Pitch or Toss” and “Future Endeavors;” although saying he would take watching them over the Rumble is hardly a ringing endorsement. There was only one other comment. He was more critical of my selection of contestants for the reality show and my apparent unfair bias against Ryback. I guess I must have imagined reading the article that noted it was his fault Ziggler got a second concussion. That aside, I still stand by my choice of Ryback for the show as I do not find him entertaining and have not seen anything in the ring or on the mic that supports his continued presence. They have plenty of big men who could fill the monster role better (Alexander Rusev comes right to mind).

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Still SMELLLLLLLLLLLLL-LA-LA-LA…
Again going with something a little different this week as the current crop of plotlines on air are not inspiring anything.

I am a fan of theater and during most of my education from grade school through college, I was active on and behind the stage. Many times, I joke with people that while I am lawyer, the truth is that I am an actor that was too scared to try to make it in the industry. I just found real-world criminal litigation less stressful.

In that time in the world of theater, I developed a love and appreciation for the plays of William Shakespeare. I was blessed that in my life, I had teachers, directors, and mentors who taught Shakespeare in context. Yes, he has flowery prose and a wonderfully complex rhythm structure and evokes classic imagery. They also taught that he wrote to please his contemporary audiences. Many who went to see Shakespeare had little to no education and were sometimes a little intoxicated. All of my teachers made the analogy that if Shakespeare were alive in the 20th and 21st century, he would have written for “Three’s Company,” “The Office,” “Melrose Place,” and “Supernatural.”

I also think that Shakespeare would have made a great creative talent for a wrestling promotion. An average Shakespearian tragedy could fit the confines of a wrestling show. Action, deception, betrayal, fights, comedy (seriously, The Fool’s scenes in any tragedy are some of Shakespeare’s best. See the gatekeeper from “Macbeth” or the gravedigger from “Hamlet” as examples). There is one of his though that I have always wanted to do a production of set against the backdrop of professional wrestling: Romeo and Juliet.

Everyone is probably familiar with the general plot of Romeo and Juliet, but here is a quick summary. In the town of Verona, there are two families, the Montagues and the Capulets, whom are locked in an endless feud. One evening, a contingent of Montagues, which include a naïve Romeo son of the head of the house, sneak into a party hosted by the Capulets. In the course of the evening, Romeo meets Juliet, the daughter of the senior Capulet. The two teenagers immediately fall in mad, hopeless love and swear devotion to each other forever. The two run off and marry in secret. Immediately after their marriage, Mercutio, a friend of Romeo’s is slayed by Tybalt, a cousin of Juliet’s. In a rage of revenge, Romeo slays Tybalt. Romeo is forced into exile from Verona. Juliet and the monk who married the kids concoct a plan where Juliet will fake her death, then be whisked out of Verona so she can join Romeo and they can live happily ever after. Unfortunately, Romeo never gets this tidbit of information. Upon learning Juliet is dead, he races back to Verona, breaks into the Capulet vault, and after a prolonged pronouncement of love, poisons himself on top of the comatose Juliet. Naturally, Juliet awakens and freaks out that her beloved is lying REALLY dead next to her. She does the only thing that makes the most sense to a teenager who has just lost her first love. She tries to kiss him and hope there is enough poison on his lips to kill her too. When this doesn’t work, she grabs Romeo’s dagger and commits Italian seppuku.

The story fits perfectly into the world of wrestling. I imagine a staging of the show would feature the audience sitting in a wrestling venue with a ring and entrance ramp. The action takes primarily within the ring, with it being decorated accordingly in that wonderfully cheesy wrestling way for “special events” such as the party or the crypt. Action can also take place on the ramp and the stage beneath a Titantron. Some scenes could even be done “backstage” and broadcast on the big screen. I would include signs for the audience to have to wave during matches such as “Cap the Capulets” or “Mercutio III vi.”

The play even begins perfectly for a wrestling show. A monologue, performed by an outside party discusses the situation surrounding the “Two Houses.” After that, there is an altercation between rival pairs of Montagues and Capulets that degenerates into an all-out fight that requires the mayor of Verona to break up with his guard. How many times have we seen a variation of this as the opening to Raw?

The Capulets and Montagues are obviously rival stables in the same federation. Each duel is a match. Tybalt could end up killing Mercutio by Pillmanizing him. He is stretchered out and delivers his dying monologue as he is shown on the Titantron being loaded into an ambulance. This leads sends Romeo into a blind rage and starts a backstage brawl with Tybalt that spills back out to the ring. He ends up slaying Tybalt with a piledriver through the announce table.

Below is a list of how I envision the most prominent characters.

Romeo: A young, skinny rookie. He has yet to really cut his teeth in the ring, and is mostly still training. I picture a clean shaven Daniel Bryan, Bryan Kendrick, or other smaller statured individual.

Juliet: Another rookie. Juliet could either be training to be a wrestler, or is looking to become a valet/manager like her mother (in the vein of Ms. Elizabeth).

Lead Montague and Capulet: Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes. Grizzled veterans that fought so often in the past and did so much to one another, it can never end. Over the years, their rivalry spilled over and affected those around them. There is no memory of what started their feud, but there is no end.

Mercutio: Shawn Michaels/Eddie Gurerro for the Montagues. Mercutio is the most accomplished fighter for the Montagues, well loved, and respected by all around him; even his opponents. However, he has a depth to him as the lifestyle has impacted him. Read Mercutio’s famous “Queen Mab” speech. While full of humor and mirth, there is significant grief and regret in it of a soldier who has maybe fought one battle too many.

Tybalt: The Capulet’s dominant heel. While I would not try to lay out the Montagues as faces and Capulets as heels, Tybalt is not liked by anyone save those he is related to. He could be played as a sadistic submission specialist or go the monster powerhouse route. The idea is that he is a legitimate rival to Mercutio and appear to be way too much for Romeo to handle.

The Nurse: Juliet’s nurse who helps pass messages between the two lovers. I picture her as Tamina Snuka/Chyna: a female powerhouse that is Juliet’s bodyguard. My favorite scene in the play is a downright pornographic battle of words between Mercutio and the Nurse. I picture the two of them facing off in a training match that is definitely not TV-PG.

The Monk: A referee. The voice of authority and neutrality in this whole event. He would love to see Romeo and Juliet team up as to hopefully create a more calm federation and make his job easier in calling matches.

The Mayor of Verona: Vince. ‘Nuff Said.

The rest of the cast is filled out by various male and female wrestlers for the Montagues and Capulets, event security as the guards of Verona, ring announcers (to perform the Two Houses opening monologue), and medical personnel. The apothecary who sells Romeo his poison is a drug dealer as Romeo kills himself via overdose. Juliet can still use a knife/switchblade carried by Romeo, or go with a gun.

The greatest obstacle in ever mounting a production of this version is finding a cast is both competent in the ring, and can actually deliver Shakespeare’s lines without sounding like they are just reciting what they memorized. I doubt it will ever come to pass, but whenever I need inspiration, I think of this idea and can’t help but crack a smile.

Until next time, I relinquish creative control.

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