New York theater critics generally are not chummy with one another: Clashing opinions and an unspoken caste system regarding the outlets for which one reviews tend to foster snotty attitudes. I saw Martin Denton, usually in the company of Rochelle, his mother and constant companion, at scores of shows for more than a dozen years, but we had at best a nodding acquaintance. Witnessing Martin Denton, Martin Denton, an amiable little bio-comedy regarding the man and his mom, makes me almost wish we’d been friendlier.
Based on interviews with Denton and written by Chris Harcum, who also portrays a wide-eyed incarnation of the critic (sporting the tan khakis and madras shirts that he customarily favored), the hundred-minute piece is the saga of a humdrum fellow who became a champion of Off-Off-Broadway theater. Bookended by paraphrases from Our Town meant to signify Off-Off-Broadway’s reputation as a special village, the two-actor play details how Denton, a stagestruck thirtysomething information-systems analyst based in Washington, D.C., began writing reviews in the late Nineties. Denton and his widowed mom would take weekend excursions to see New York shows, and he’d report his reactions in a pioneering online platform that later became nytheatre.com.
Eventually moving to Manhattan, the Dentons operated, from out of their downtown apartment, a cottage publishing enterprise concentrating upon indie theaters and emerging artists. By the time they retired to New Jersey in 2014, more than ten thousand reviews, hundreds of published plays, and countless blog posts and podcasts had appeared online or in print thanks to their obsessive industry. It’s a nice story that offers audiences a sentimental journey through Off-Off-Broadway byways, but it is not an especially dramatic one: Even the Dentons’ obligatory recounting of their 9-11 experiences (they lived within a few blocks of the World Trade Center) proves relatively prosaic.
Fortunately, Harcum has devised an informal, presentational-style narrative that he affably shares — in a Mickey and Judy manner — with Marisol Rosa-Shapiro, a young comedian who invests Rochelle with yenta accents and a feisty attitude. (The actors also depict incidental characters, including themselves, during the play’s more meta moments.) Aimee Todoroff, the director, fosters a casual atmosphere for this production, which — with its inflatable orange couch, cardboard-box decor, and smattering of quirky props — is reminiscent of many shows in the New York International Fringe Festivals that the Dentons covered so faithfully during their downtown heyday.
Martin Denton, Martin Denton
85 East 4th Street
Through July 23