REVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

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, 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

9 thoughts on “I Am Montana

  • theatrewidow

    Oh Tom,

    I can’t speak to the production, but I do have a word to say about the script. I AM MONTANA already ran to rave reviews in London. Considering the theatre literacy of the British, I must say: I would trust their instincts on a script over that of an ex-cop… Especially considering that I am the daughter of one… and have lived in London. (You seem to dig personal experience as bona fides.)

  • It is amazing that you question by evaluation without seeing the show! Just because the British like the show doesn’t mean it is a good show. I have reviewed over 3,000 plays over the last nine years so I know a bad show when I see one. Read what others say also,

  • chitowngal

    Saw the show off a friend’s recommendation. While I don’t think the production’s anything to write home about, I must disagree with this review’s dismissal of the script. This is a tight piece of writing that tackles some huge and compelling ideas via a really moving personal story.

    All of this reviewer’s dramaturgical questions are addressed in the script, from what I remember. Why does Eben fight for Israel? Eben joins the Israeli Army because A.) he was born in Israel and B.) he doesn’t know how to fight for Montana after his parents were killed. Kind of hard to miss. It’s a huge plot point.

    Why is Dirk in the play? Really? Dirk’s clearly Tommy’s foil: Eben’s torn between what each of these guys stand for. Dirk is inspired by Eben’s desire to blow things up.

    As a side note, I’m shocked by the casual homophobia on display in this review (“The gay theme conflicts with the plot”). Would you ever write a review saying, “The straight theme conflicts with the plot”? Would you have felt better if these characters were straight? Do the characters need to explain why they’re gay? That’s homophobic.

  • I stand by my review and I’m offended by your insults.

  • It’s my firm belief that Sam Hunter’s one of the most extraordinary playwrights working in American theater today. This, by the way, is not my position alone, as Hunter is quickly becoming one of the most produced playwrights in American theater.

    Some of his work is quite challenging to produce, and many critics often miss the mark, demanding real-world realism of a writer who’s clearly using emotional truths as a way to explore what it’s like to be an American left on the outskirts of the American dream.

    I, like you, Tom, have been working in theater for years, and I must say — I AM MONTANA — is one of the most moving scripts I’ve ever read. And so I take issue with your claim that the script is “convoluted, unworkable, and preposterous.” Or rather, I must ask: have you read the script? Or did you simply see the production? Because if the latter, please refrain from conflating the two.

  • The only play by Hunter that I have seen is this one and I stand by my review. I almost never read the script of a play before seeing it. Scripts are not easily available and since I see around 30 plays per month, it is nor feasible for me to read a script before seeing the show. Some playwrights read well and some don’t. Try reading a Mamet play – the gaps ring out. Miller, Williams and Stoppard read well. I don’t believe it is necessary to have read a script before review the production.

  • Greg Aldrich

    “The theater metamorphoses with painful slowness and its vital history is marked by wide gaps, periods when its immersion in social contingency and physical obligation prevent it from assuming new and necessary forms. A communal art, an art subject to immediate pressures of taste and judgement–to ‘verdicts’–the stage has always found it especially expedient to mimic its own past and understands that it attains its cheif revitalizations at great costs.”

    -Richard Gilman from “The Making of Modern Drama”

    I for one applaud the “great cost” that Mortar Theatre Company undertook in bringing this important play to Chicago. New work and risk–both in writing and production–is the lifeblood of the American Theater.

  • I think if your review is all about the script and the plot then maybe you should just read plays and review them. Certainly clarity of story is important, but you don’t address the production, just the script. Other than ‘poorly acted’ (a generalization) and ‘swishy’ (redundant), what actually happened on the stage wasn’t mentioned. If it’s what’s on the page that you’re looking at, go for it. But that’s different than reviewing a production. As for me, I wasn’t crazy about the script, it felt somewhat predictable. But the staging, the lighting, and the performance of Sentell Harper were all great. It’s exciting to see this level of work from such a young company. And those things are worth mentioning.

    I actually didn’t find the ‘gayness’ to be very confusing…

  • Susan Freyer

    Here here. I am so tired of reading reviews about how a play is “riveting” or whatever and wondering if the theatre company paid off the reviewer. This is just not good. This production is NOT GOOD.

Leave a Reply