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Small Company Tackles Big Issues with “I Am Montana”

By Heather Nadolny | Friday, April 22, 2011

With the impending rumors of a potential Lakeview Wal-Mart, Mortar Theatre Company’s current production of Samuel D. Hunter’s I Am Montana asks the same question as Chicago citizens: How can you fight something that invades not with violence or ammunition, but with lower prices and property takeover?

I Am Montana follows the story of “Valumart” employee and Israeli army veteran Eben (Derek Garza), who struggles with memories from his service, and the realization that Valumart has aggressively invaded his home state of Montana.

Along with his best friend Tommy (Sentell Harper) and new employee Dirk (Josh Nordmark), Eben travels to Cedar Rapids for the Valumart National Convention, quietly planning something much bigger than an incentives presentation.

“When I heard that Wal-Mart was trying to come to Lakeview, I knew the time had come to produce this play,” explains director Rachel Edwards Harvith. “By allowing big box stores to come into our neighborhoods, we risk sacrificing the local flavors that make Chicago special.”

Founded in the fall of 2009, Mortar Theatre Company’s mission is to engage community dialogue by telling the stories of everyday heroes onstage. This production is the first of their second season, themed “Violence in the American Landscape.”

The idea of an everyday hero is especially relevant with I Am Montana, for, as Harvith points out, “How many of us have worked at some point for minimum wage or in retail? And yet you don’t see those real people onstage. That, to me, is what theatre is all about. We have TV and film, and they are great, but they can do realism in a way that theatre never can. Why not take audiences on unique journeys, with unexpected detours from conventional storytelling?”

I Am Montana runs through May 1, at the Athenaeum Theatre located at 2936 N. Southport. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20, with student and senior discounts available.

For more information on Mortar Theatre Company and I Am Montana, visit their website at www.mortartheatrecompany.org.

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