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Martin Denton, Martin Denton

Theatre Review by Jose Solís - July 10, 2017

Chris Harcum and Marisol Rosa-Shapiro
Photo by Cilla Villanueva

Chris Harcum's Martin Denton, Martin Denton is to indie theatre what James Lapine's Act One was to Broadway; an enchanting tale of how one man's deep love for the artform changed the landscape of its era. While Lapine's adaptation of Moss Hart's autobiography was a sober, traditional take on a man's life, Harcum takes a zanier approach using elements of stand-up, Brechtian fourth wall breaking, and buddy comedy, to create an impressionistic portrait. The play presented by Elephant Run District at The Kraine Theater, feels almost improvised because of its fresh, energetic nature, which is not to say Harcum hasn't written some thoughtful, beautiful scenes.

From the opening in which we learn Harcum himself will be playing theatre critic Denton, with co-star Marisol Rosa-Shapiro playing most of the other characters, we realize we're in for something between a memory play and a farcical biography. The show focuses on how Denton went from working for one of the world's biggest hotel chains in DC to becoming an essential part of the indie theatre scene in New York City. We learn how he first became obsessed with plays and how this love turned into a need to create the iconic New York Theatre Experience, which was one of the most important channels in spreading the word about Off-Off-Broadway theatre and particularly the Fringe Festival. The playwright taking on the lead character makes for some hilarious moments when Harcum as Denton talks about Harcum, often to give him praise or commend his previous work. A tongue in cheek touch that had audiences roaring with laughter.

And the audience plays an important part in the show, rather than just being passive, they're invited to call out names of the websites created by Denton, catch snacks being thrown from the stage, and at one point they are asked by Harcum as Denton about shows in which they were involved that were reviewed by Denton or a critic in the team he assembled. Certainly theatre makers and indie artists were compelled by the content of the show, and arrived to show their support and learn more about Denton, but there is also a meta element that makes the play feel like a breathing organism.

Those unfamiliar with Denton, his work or even the indie theatre scene should also find enough pleasure in the play. If nothing else, it's a lovesong to theatre, as we see Denton talk about how his father's love of Our Town set him on the path that would determine how he'd spend his adult life. Listening to Denton talk about criticism and the importance of reviewers engaging with the work they're seeing felt inspiring, and hearing stories told by his mother Rochelle (Rosa-Shapiro's most delightful character) isn't only quite funny, but also moving because it speaks volumes of how Denton was able to bring his family into his life's work. With Martin Denton, Martin Denton Harcum doesn't just celebrate the legacy of a digital critic pioneer, but also pays tribute to how a man's passion shaped those around him.

Martin Denton, Martin Denton
Through July 23
The Kraine Theater, 85 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule:

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