Review "I AM MONTANA": Consuming Journey of Self-Discovery

Audio Podcast available on ITUNES
Narrated by Joshua Volkers
At Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport
Written by Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by Rachel Edwards Harvith
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru May 7th 
Running Time: Ninety-five minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Katy Walsh 
This Israeli soldier walks into a Walmart… No, it’s not the opening to a joke.  This Israeli soldier is trapped in a confining structure… Yes, it is his reality or is it?  Mortar Theatre presents the Midwest Premiere of I AM MONTANA.  Eben Shamir survives weeks beneath the rubble of a military explosion.  He returns to his Valumart job as damaged goods.  Wanting to help him save his job, his childhood friend coerces a 25-hour road trip to the annual Valumart Convention in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  Eben brings a lot of baggage along with his cherished bitterroot.  Another co-worker joins the carpool toting his crystal-meth addiction and a gun.  Eben is angry at… the Arabs, Valumart, Tommy, Dirk… Who is the enemy, anyway?  I AM MONTANA is the perpetual state of surviving persecution.
IAmMontana_MortarTheatre-EbenTommyWEB.jpgPlaywright Samuel D. Hunter goes big and small looking at the war raging inside and out.  Through flashback scenes, the Israeli-Arab conflict takes a personal shift as opposing soldiers are forced to persevere in unity.  Meanwhile back in big sky country, Valumarts are bulldozing through the Americana landscape.  The contrasting context is riveting.  Hunter adds in a gay super-subtext that feels clunky.  There is an everybody- wants-Eben’ vibe that cheapens the bigger messages of sacrifice.  
Under the direction of Rachel Edwards Harvith, the talented cast takes you on a well-paced journey.  In the lead, Derek Garza (Eben) successfully switches back and forth as hopeful, scared P.O.W. to sullen, volatile mega-store lifer.  Garza passionately expresses victimization as a casualty and a perpetrator.  Sentell Harper (Tommy) plays over-the-top stereotyped gay.  Harper’s performance elicits solid laughs and empathy for his sweet and obsessive loving nature.  Like a tool in the shampoo aisle, the character of Dirk (played by Josh Nordmark) seems out of place.  Still, Nordmark nails himself into memorable moments of comedy and crazy.  Nicholas Roy Caesar duels it out as the enemies: the resigned Arab captive and exploiting Valumart pig.  Caesar effectively translates from guttural English to commercial Americana. The entire cast is vested in giving the audience customer satisfaction.
“Submission to the inevitable is the only power we have.” Hunter has penned a powerful tale of confronting the enemy.  In another country, in our homeland, in ourselves, where is the most destructive explosive hiding?  I AM MONTANA is one man’s exploration of who he is and what he is capable of. It’s a consuming journey of self-discovery at bargain basement prices.
A man always in search of a valuable story, Tom describes it with ‘too many themes.’
Production photograph courtesy of Tom McGrath.

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