BY TRAV S.D. | From 1997 through 2014 the New York theatre community, in particular its independent theatre, had an amazing life raft. A pioneering Internet entrepreneur and theatre-lover named Martin Denton, aided and abetted by his mother, Rochelle, wrote, published, edited, coded, and promoted the website nytheatre.com, which featured thousands of reviews, listings, blogs, interviews, and podcasts about the New York theatre scene. Over those 17 years the Dentons touched thousands of people’s lives: artists, audience members, arts administrators, journalists — everyone who cared about New York theatre. But they’d never BEEN theatre themselves.
July 6-23, NYC-based indie theatre and film company Elephant Run District will present “Martin Denton, Martin Denton” at the Kraine Theater. The brainchild of writer and actor Chris Harcum, who plays Denton and numerous other roles, the show is directed by Aimee Todoroff and co-stars Marisol Rosa-Shapiro, who plays Rochelle, et al.
Said Todoroff: “Chris and I were having dinner with Martin and Rochelle in their new digs in Asbury Park, NJ. Martin was on a tear, telling these great stories one after the other, and Chris said, ‘Someone should do a show about this.’ Martin said, ‘Who would play me? You?’ We all laughed, but the seed was planted. The next thing we know, we’re booked into the Kraine for July, and Chris is spending his weekends train-hopping between New York City and New Jersey to record interviews with Martin. One thing of note; the name of the play, ‘Martin Denton, Martin Denton,’ came about because Chris wanted to force people to say Martin’s name and remember it!
Harcum concurred, underlining the pivotal importance of the Dentons: “They have done so much for indie theater and changed the game in terms of arts coverage. In his time, Martin wrote and edited a combined total of over 10,000 reviews, published around 2,000 plays, plus hundreds of podcasts, and thousands of blog posts. He gave attention and appreciation to many artists early on, including Taylor Mac. As crazy and spread out as everything has been, the Dentons pulled things together. They worked round the clock nearly every day of the year.”
To gather material for the piece, Harcum made three trips to the Dentons New Jersey apartment to interview them, resulting in over 400 pages of transcripts, which then had to be condensed, digested, fact checked, and placed in chronological order, with Denton himself acting as the dramaturge.
As for being turned into a piece of theatre himself, Denton is disarmed: “It has been one of the strangest experiences in my life; becoming someone else’s idea of who I am. I think Chris has been doing a very respectful job in writing these versions of myself and Rochelle; and that he and Marisol and Aimee are likewise doing a very respectful job bringing these versions to life on stage. But it’s kinda surreal for me because no matter what, it’s not the actual us! I am getting a real appreciation for how any public figure must feel when they are the subject of any kind of written or artistic portrayal. It’s untethering.”
Longtime theatre fans are bound to be curious, for the piece chronicles Denton’s entire life story — from his childhood love for theatre to that moment when, as an accountant for the Marriott hotel chain, he started his site as an experimental whim… which then became the entire focus of his life… which then became the informational hub for thousands of theatre lovers and practitioners and the soul of a movement… to the moment when both he and the Internet environment had changed, and the Dentons altered the focus to play publishing, blogging, and the creation of an archive, all to be found at the current site indietheaternow.com.
Playing Denton, said Harcum, has been “a real marathon for me. It’s much more of a challenge than I expected. I am trying to give a three-dimensional portrayal of him. More like Frank Langella’s Nixon than Rich Little’s, if that means anything. Impressions are good for a shorter sketch comedy piece but I think they wear thin once you get the joke. So I needed to make choices I could sustain through this. I bring a lot of myself to it. … At a certain point, I had to stop thinking like a playwright and think more like an actor picking up a script from someone else.”
As to the meaning of all this?
“I just hope audiences will get an appreciation of the life and work of someone who truly loved the theater,” Harcum said. “At the end of the day, this is a story of someone falling in love with something, having a deep and intense relationship, and then having to let go a little in the end. I think artists will understand what this is like, and aficionados will also get this on a meaningful level.”
July 6-23 at The Kraine Theater (85 E. Fourth St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). Thurs.-Sat. at 7pm; Sun. at 2pm. For tickets ($25, $20 for students/seniors), visit horsetrade.info. 90 minutes, no intermission. Also visit elephantrundistrict.org.