I Am Montana

By Samuel D. HunterI am Montana by Harvith

Directed by Rachel Edwards Harvith

Produced by Mortar Theatre Company

At the Athenaeum Theatre

Weird, convoluted plot with unbelievable characters

makes for a unsatisfying play

There is the willing suspension of disbelief  and then there is I Am Montana.  In one of the most convoluted, unworkable and preposterous scripts this reviewer has encountered in years, I must report that I had to scratch my head in disbelief – how could any theatre company mount such rubbish? This slowly paced and poorly acted work stretches credulity.

I Am Montana

I Am Montana is a story about three minimum wage employees at Valumart (hint Walmart) who are selected to attend the corporate national convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Ha? Tommy (Sentell Harper) is the swishy African-American gay guy who has loved his lifelong friend Eben (Derek Garza) who is an American citizen from Isreal who has just returned from serving in the Israeli Army (why?). Eben loves America and calls it home – so why enlist in the Israeli Army? – that is never explained.

I Am Montana

Upon his return to Montana, Eben goes back to work at Valumart in the gardening section. His love for Bitterroot plants almost overwhelms him. He travels with one in a planter. His friend Tommy arranges for them plus a meth-head Dirk (Josh Nordmark) to drive 25 hours from Montana to Iowa to attend the convention. Tommy – who has a lifetime crush on Eben – has a plan to find out what happened to Eben while serving in the Israeli Army.  It seems that Valumart wants to feature Eben in a national image TV ad to flaunt the corporation’s cultural diversity. Tommy agrees to help the company get Eben to do the TV spot.

We witness flashbacks to Eben in the Israeli Army as he is encased in rubble from a missile explosion with an Arab suicide bomber. During the incarceration, Eben sings a Montana anthem spouting his love for his adapted state. After several flashbacks, we realize that Eben has developed a bond with his fellow trapped one despite hi being a terrorist. For weeks the two survive on water without food. Their situation becomes desperate yet the two bond.

Meanwhile,  the meth-addicted Dirk must drive with Tommy and Eben to the convention. Why is this character in the play? A mystery. Dirk smokes meth while he ignores  Tommy and he slowly flirts with Eben. He sense that Eben has something powerful in his luggage and he wants to be apart of Eben’s plan. He also kisses and sexually advances on Eben- who easily succumbs.  The gay theme conflicts with the plot. We never completely see the connection between Eben’s pain and his wanting to do harm to corporate Valumart? Eben’s gayness only confuses things. Dirk is a undeveloped weirdo and Tommy simply want to be with his love – Eben.

I can’t say too much more so as not to spoil the story for those brave enough to see this play. Suffice for me to say that there is no basis for the plot’s resolution; nor why all three don’t realize that killing folks isn’t the way to protest their dislike for working retail. Why don’t they just quit Valumart if they find the store’s culture so repugnant? Without meaningful motivation and plausibility, this strange play is much too convoluted and manipulative to be worthy. It seems to try to be a protest against Valumart (Walmart). But the how and why of this senseless work is both unfocused and poorly constructed. The acting is as flimsy as the script. I’m dumb-founded as to why a theatre company would produce such dribble. Skip this one.

Not Recommended

Tom  Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: April 8, 2011

For full show information, go to the I Am Montana page at TheatreinChicago page.

At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call  1-800-982-2787, www.mortartheatrecompany.org, tickets $20, $18 senior, $15 students, $12 veterans, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through May 1, 2011