Review of MARTIN DENTON, MARTIN DENTON (Horse Trade Theater Group)

By Vishwa Goohya | vishwa@viastage.com

martin denton playNEW YORK, NY (July 14, 2017) — Chris Harcom’s MARTIN DENTON, MARTIN DENTON, directed by Aimee Todoroff, sprints thru the life and times of the famed theatre critic and founder of nytheatre.com, Martin Denton (Chris Harcom). He and his delightfully manic side-kick (Marisol Rosa-Shapiro), who plays his mother along with a wide slew of bushy-tailed side characters ranging from a svelte real estate broker to Denton’s gruff military boss – take us on a whirlwind, adrenaline-fueled 50-year ride of his success from his kooky childhood to his humble beginnings as a cookie-cutter accountant and Marriott employee to his (and his mothers’) rise as the preeminent distributers for all things theatre in New York City, nytheatre.com.

In the course of a 17-year career, they publish thousands upon thousands of reviews, interviews, podcasts, and blogs (1,347 plays online, 10,431 reviews, 3,032 of which Denton had reviewed personally, 2,000 blog posts, and 459 podcasts). From the moment we board this crazy-themed amusement ride with them, replete with silly puppet theatricality, cornball jokes, rapid cycling role-playing, absurdist light and sound vignettes, and insider name dropping, we sense that we are being frantically propelled towards something or somewhere. But without the usual ebbs and flows of story and plot and getting to know characters and relationships, we’re left feeling like it’s all speed and no depth – the numbers rack up, their ambition to cover every festival blinding, the chance meetings with this or that luminary collecting like war trophies, the free shows, the famous plays they cover and miss, on and on and on… We’re moving at the speed of New York City, and we’re beginning to feel a bit nauseous before we’re even at the halfway mark. It’ so fast paced – it’s tiring.

Denton, in his khaki pants and short-sleeved plaid shirt, appears more like a narrator than a lead character. He is the person we know least about by the time it’s all over. Of course, we now have an abundance of information at our fingertips – what he did and who he did it with and where – like a 5-year old telling you about everything that happened at school that day. But, as far as his inner workings, we don’t really know this man at all. We don’t know why this person, who appears not to have an artistic bone in his body, would feel so drawn to the theater in the first place. There is no dramatic tension in his relationships, no nuance or inner conflict we can discern. Even his eerily close relationship with his mother, Rochelle, his constant companion and business partner (who he appears to have lived with his entire life) is presented as a simple matter-of-fact.

Then again, perhaps that is the point. And, perhaps that is this man. The unsung heroes of the New York City theater community are this square, dorky numbers-guy and his savvy, resourceful mother. The critic is not so much a critic at all – but rather, an aficionado, a humble, nonjudgmental theater “appreciator”. We finally begin to get a glimpse of this man’s POV as he asks the critic in all of us: “Who are you to judge”?

Experimental, quirky, and even a bit meta, this play makes us curious even when it seems to have lost its marbles. From the inflatable bright orange living room “couch” that Rochelle then later turns over and pretends is a piano, to the college dorm style makeshift armoire through which our sidekick intermittently emerges wearing colorful masks, to a paper basket filled with snacks for the audience (they throw butter fingers out into the audience at one point), there is a scrappiness to it all that is cutesy, wacky, and endearing. And, perhaps that is what captures the essence of the indie theater community – departing from convention, doing more with less, fearless haphazardness, versatile set designs, and indefatigable performers who give, give, give to the point of physical exhaustion.

The commitment is full on, unquestioned, and then out of nowhere, Denton becomes strangely thoughtful, reflective, nostalgic even…the tempo is off. The audiences dwindle. The numbers stop going up. And, the pace…finally…slows. It slowly dawns on us that what we just witnessed may have been more obituary than ode. Suddenly, we are the other side of the madness and we realize that theater in New York City may just be past its prime, after all. Hopefully, the sheer number of reviews, podcasts, blogs won’t be all that we’re left with.

MARTIN DENTON, MARTIN DENTON runs through July 23 at the Kraine Theater. For more information, visit Horse Trade or ViaStage link.

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