Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Broadway in Tucson Review: "The Play That Goes Wrong"

It's hard work to look awful and incompetent. "The Play That Goes Wrong" hones a goofy cavalcade of failure to a fever-pitched edge of incisive humor.

The setup: A low-rung British theater society opens up an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery set within a mansion. The set is falling apart, behind-the-scenes techs are always meddling and screwing things up, actors forget their lines and take a bulldozer to the fourth wall.

A masterwork of set design, impeccably-timed blocking and layered comedic writing that operates on simultaneous levels, "The Play That Goes Wrong" lathers up a firestorm of Vaudeville-style comedy, melding slapstick, corny one-liners and absurd, over-the-top catastrophes in a headlong dive into a funhouse of mirror that mocks the theater world.

Although the true masterminds of director Matt DiCarlo's production are behind the scenes, all of the antics would fall flat if not executed by a masterful cast. Jason Bowen, Chris Lancely, Chris French and Michael Thatcher make up a geek chorus of goofiness as house staffers, siblings and, yes, theater techs stumble through the mishap-plagued mystery.

Jacqueline Jarrold shines as Sandra, a would-be femme fatale who finds herself in the focal point of the intrigue. Bianca Horn is her apt complement -- as well as her fight partner -- as a tech who fills in as Sandra when the actress is out of commission. The dynamic forms the core of the madcap insanity that radiates throughout the stage, as well as the rest of the theater.

Credit DiCarlo's creative team for being able to adjust on the fly, with the cast calling out audience members at opportune times, as well as a priceless, made-for-Tucson monologue that roasts the city's inferiority complex with Phoenix, as well as the UA's rivalry with ASU.

"The Play That Goes Wrong" thrives by breaking all the rules with a Mack truck, then happily backing up over the wreckage and repeating the process. Overkill is the order of the day, but the smile on your face will last the full two-hour running time, as well as the giddy drive home. The play may go wrong, and that's why everything feels so right.

"The Play That Goes Wrong" plays through Sunday at Centennial Hall. For tickets, click here.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Book Report: "The Dead Zone"

The key to "The Dead Zone" is the way Stephen King sets up false premises, only to knock them on their side as he takes you in unexpected directions.

With a title like that, as well as King's usual subject material, I expected a horror tale, or at least something heavily involved with the spirit world. Instead, the novel is free of ghosts, hauntings and horror and instead a matter-of-fact rumination about what it would like to be blessed/cursed with psychic powers.

The burden of foresight in the land of the blind is heavy. The protagonist has a superpower that makes him capable of winning big at roulette or tracking down a serial killer, but it shoves him into impossible ethical situations.

The politically-charged latter half of the book focuses on a charismatic Congressional candidate whose potential path to success would spell the doom of millions of people. The quandary that arises is to what degree it's beneficial to derail that candidate's career. As the stakes rise and increasingly drastic methods become visible, the story becomes a drama set nearly almost entirely within the character's mind.

"The Dead Zone" is an unorthodox King book, and allows him to show off his off-brand skills. He proves to be as strong and lively a storyteller as usual, and that's a result it doesn't take a psychic to predict.

Monday, December 30, 2019

"World War Z" Review

It's tough to find a spot to stand out in the saturated zombie genre, but "World War Z" makes an attempt as persistent and fierce as an undead creature hungering for brains.

The co-op focused third-person shooter harkens back to "Left 4 Dead," with the emphasis on communication and complementary skills and roles key to survival.

Diverse mission sets, an elegant menu system that allows players to adjust gameplay parameters and join whatever session fits their mood. You can squad up with buddies, take your chances with strangers or seek out custom games. No matter how you go about the task,

Developer Saber Interactive prioritizes ease of use and speed above all else, and still manages to craft a game with impressive visuals, sound and animation.

The community has responded in kind, creating a thriving support system that means there are always players to link up with. That X factor is key, because without that level of commitment, there would barely be a game here.

"World War Z" continues to grow month after release, with Saber distributing regular content updates to keep things fresh and vibrant. The war against the evil dead will always be a perpetual struggle, and "World War Z" is out to ensure that the fight won't turn monotonous.

Publisher provided review code.