BWW Review: The Theatrical Reverie that is MARTIN DENTON, MARTIN DENTON
Picture a one-person play in which a single, brave soul takes center stage to tell a story that he believes can be told by him alone. It is a narrative, allowing that person to serve as storyteller - or perhaps it teaches, or maybe it is meant to showcase impressive and entertaining impressions as a portion of humankind is portrayed by one human being. Now take that idea and multiply it by two, and you get a heartwarming journey through time as told by two people, partners in both comedy and drama that are as inseparable as their memories from their minds.
In Martin Denton, Martin Denton, now in performances at the Kraine Theater over on East 4th, a tag team of mother and son tell the tale of their almost haphazardly formed theater lives with the grace and pomp of any engaging storyteller; you would think they actually had the entire thing planned out the entire time. With such a realistic, almost humble approach to the telling of a rather fascinating story of how these theater buffs paved the way for theater reviewers to come, Martin Denton, Martin Denton is sure to captivate audiences with good, kooky laughs, bittersweet nostalgia and a gained appreciation of just how very important theater is to the structure of this world and the people in it.
Presented by Elephant Run District and FRIGID @ Horse Trade, Martin Denton, Martin Denton takes Chris Harcum's new play and brings it to an intimate and almost familial feel of the Kraine's blackbox theater. Directed by Aimee Todoroff, New York audiences are now treated to the World Premiere of this inspiring show that is essentially one big, heartwarming story of the charming unexpectedness of life. Martin Denton, Martin Denton, through the simple form of engaging storytelling, takes the audience through the perpetually unplanned lives of D.C. accountant Martin Denton and his mother Rochelle as they find themselves in the unprecedented realm of online theater reviews.
With only two actors on stage for the duration of the show, Martin and Rochelle seek not to just entertain with some wacky characters they encounter on their journey or charm you with the pure-heartedness of their own selves in the midst of a changing world, they also want to teach a very important lesson to all those in attendance. They want audiences to see that, although theater (and theaters) come and go and time moves on, an appreciation of theater is synonymous with an appreciation of life. From the actor to the playwright and finally the reviewer, all experience this art in a form that is not to be criticized or judged, but embraced as the telling of one's personal journey - much like these two actors fearlessly do with this show.
Martin Denton, Martin Denton tells the story of Denton who, from college onward, experiences quite a few changes of heart in terms of what he wants to do with his life. From following in his father's scientific footsteps to then becoming a geography major and finally switching to accounting, he finally chooses to embrace his love of theater following his father's death. With his mother, Rochelle, Martin takes his passion for the stage and his skills navigating "the Internet" to create nytheatre.com, an online platform on which to post reviews of the few shows they see.
A unique idea of its time, the website grows to the point where Rochelle gives up her business to help her son run the website and review shows full time. Single day trips to New York turn into more frequent visits as the site gains notoriety and people yearn for the opinions of these two who dedicate their time to supporting the theater. With a chalkboard system of keeping track of their accomplishments which mimics the spontaneous nature and speed at which they come about, Martin Denton, Martin Denton is a heartwarming story of funny notions and impressions, loss, impulse, passion and self-discovery that, for all its drama on stage, is really how we're all dealing with and living our lives.
Watching this show compels the audience to harbor an appreciation of these two characters and the actors who so aptly portray them in a rather unique way. Chris Harcum and Marisol Rosa-Shapiro bring the lives of the Dentons to the stage with as much conviction and respect as if they truly were Martin and Rochelle themselves. There is such an ease with which they act, a grace that not only adds such chemistry between these two actors on stage, but also makes the audience receptive to the stories they tell. From the somewhat composed goofiness of Harcum to Rosa-Shapiro, who relishes the idea of comic relief, watching them perform on stage is like being seated for a good old-fashioned story time hour...with the occasional pelting of chocolate (you'll see). Yet the ultimate goal of this show goes from entertaining the audience, to the more profound responsibility of teaching us a lesson that not even these two characters know prior to beginning their tale.
Playwrights dedicate their lives to writing a story which represents who they are, words that comprise their souls that are gifted to the world so that they, too, may understand what it is like to live another life - to tell another tale. Actors dedicate their lives in kind to the apt portrayal of characters, using their skills and individual means of self-expression to create a new person - an art that should never be underrated or underestimated. And what does the reviewer do? A reviewer is not meant to judge, but to foster an appreciation of those who may have mastered said means of self-expression, but cannot share it with as many people as they may have wished. A reviewer fosters the life of the playwright, of the actor, of the theater in general and understands that life and theater are one in the same. So saying, all should have a chance to shine, regardless of venue (as Rochelle says, there's nothing that's "off" about off-Broadway!), degrees of talent or circumstance. Life is so precious to these people who choose to share their experiences with others, and crushing their efforts would be like crushing their souls.
So, that is what I'm doing with this review. I'm being honest about great talent and saying that I very much enjoyed listening to what these actors had to say, and I believe you will too. It's a nostalgic trip for everyone in the audience, even if I was unfamiliar with some of the references made. Just to acknowledge that so much has been lost but there is so much more to be gained, so much more good to be done in the theater of today, is really inspiring. I love a good life lesson, and like a true actor doesn't act for money or fame, a true reviewer wouldn't deprive this show of the credit it deserves.
Kudos must also go to the crew who made this all come together. Sound and lighting design by Matthew Fischer, costume design by Barbara Davidson, set design/props by Alexander Zivojinovich, Stage Manager Manny Rivera and ASM Cilla Villanueva.
Martin Denton, Martin Denton began performances at the Kraine Theater (located at 85 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and the Bowery) on July 6th and will continue thru July 23rd. Tickets are $25/$20 students and seniors and may be purchased in advance at www.horseTRADE.info. Performances take place Thursday thru Saturday at 7 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. The performance will run approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Cilla Villanueva