Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "The Band's Visit"

 "The Band's Visit" thrives in understated moments that build slowly up to colossal emotional payoffs.

Its characters stew in unfulfilled longings and grudging acceptance of their mundane day-to-day responsibilities. They are tormented by opportunities squandered and not only a lack of prospects, but uncertainty they would have the will to lunge after them should they come along again.

Sasson Gabay plays Tewfiq, the leader of a traveling Egyptian band set to play a gig in Israel.

Lost and baffled by cultural differences, the band stops to eat at a lonely diner overseen by Dina (Janet Dacal), who has a vague curiosity in the group that grows over time. Eventually, the bandmembers crash with the locals, comparing cultural and life notes in an improvised symphony.

Lithe and direct, the show cruises by at a brisk 90 minutes, with no intermission. Each of the 15 musical numbers are toe-tapping delights, with "Waiting," "Omar Sharif," "Something Different" and especially the post-bow concert powering through as show-stopping stunners that take the crowd by storm.

The musicality of the band members is as superb as their low-key acting, which breaks the live theater norm by saying more in empty spaces and mumbling than with grand gestures and enunciation.

Above all, the story and spirit of the show are about Dina's inner torment and whispered longings, punctuated with overpowering expressions of song and dance. Decal is up to the operatic challenge, belting out tunes with a fevered glory that mends hearts as it breaks them.

An offbeat, driven palate-cleanser, "The Band's Visit" is the polar opposite of the standards, and earns its place alongside them for its brave, genre-shattering methods. The lonely song of its soul is stark and true.

"The Band's Visit" plays through Feb. 27 at Centennial Hall. Purchase tickets here.

PHIL ON FILM: "Big Gold Brick"

 For my full review, click here.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Book Review: "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal"


The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and BetrayalThe Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ben Mezrich's uncanny knack for scuba diving into an ocean of court documents and unearthing a compelling narrative is as skillful as Mark Zuckerberg's transformation of a dorm room website intoa billion-dollar business.

I was led to the book by the film adaptation, "The Social Network," and floored at how much better the book is than that ridiculously absorbing screenplay.

Mezrich deserves credit for taking numerous leaps of faith in imagining socially awkward moments and male bonding rituals in concocting his tale. Even if his vision of the betrayals, misunderstandings and epiphanies that led to Facebook's creation wasn't exactly spot-on, it's certainly the way it ought to have been.

In his matter-of-fact distance and comprehensive empathy for all of the characters who emerge, Mezrich paints convincing portraits of Zuckerberg, the Winklevosses, Eduardo Saverin and Sean Parker. All are complicated egotists whose divergent and blending interests created the monstrosity that the social network giant became. Without any of their help, no doubt it would have faded to black like Friendster or MySpace.

Mezrich's book, on the other hand, will stand strong even after Facebook's relevance has vanished. "The Accidental Billionaires" is an unqualified triumph, and it broke my heart when my time with it ended.

View all my reviews

Monday, February 14, 2022

Book Report: "Ready Player Two"

Ready Player Two (Ready Player One, #2)Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somewhat of a step back for Cline, the book is a worthwhile sequel for superfans of the first novel, which become a cultural phenomenon.

The story is plagued by a critical tone-deafness, as well as a protagonist whose plight is tough to care about because all he is doing is solving a problem he created. By opening a Pandora's Box of A.I. brain tampering while mass-producing Oasis immersion rigs, the hero drives away the love of his life and puts his mentor and just about everyone he cares about in jeopardy.

Cline follows the same formula he established in the first book, but scales down video game references in favor of obsessions with John Hughes and Prince. This time around, the contest is open to him alone, and there is an arbitrary time deadline he's racing against.

With nothing much at stake, it's sometimes a slog to lumber through the saga, in which seven shards must be collected -- each of them connected by obtuse riddles.

As with the first book, Cline's prose is riddled with stiff dialogue and dull humor.

A strange twist ending left me unnerved, and I credit Cline for the bold choice. It may make some feel alienated.

Despite my disappointment with the book, I enjoyed the experience. Cline is a natural, brisk storyteller, and his geeky enthusiasm is infectious. I would read a "Ready Player Three" if it comes.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Arizona Theatre Company Review: "Women in Jeopardy"

The Bechdel Test-thrashing comedy "Women in Jeopardy" manages to wring two hours of humor out of a murder mystery concept. 

The focus is on three divorced middle-aged women who have forged an ironclad bond of mutual support and judgment.

Working from an insightful, irony-tinged script by Wendy MacLeod, the play maintains fluid momentum throughout its two-hour run, delighting the audience with wit and poise.

Julia Brothers plays the sassy, fatalistic Jo, who cranks out scene-stealing one-liners. Veronika Duerr, stepping in on short notice for Aysan Celik, is Mary, a down-to-earth taskmaster whose wry reactions to the shenanigans deliver continual smiles and smirks.

The third member of the trio is the flighty, impulsive Liz (Gail Rastrorfer), whose budding romance casts with the oddball dentist Jackson provides the focal point of the drama. Jackson's dental assistant has gone missing, the latest possible victim in a string of murders of young women.

Joel Van Liew does double-duty as Jackson and Sgt. Kirk Sponsullar, whose bumbling investigatory ways perks up the romantic interest of Mary. Van Liew's deadpan delivery of morbid material is deliciously effective.

Lurking on the periphery are young on-again, off-again lovers Amanda (Ashley Shamoon) -- and Trenner (Damian Garcia). Amanda, Liz's daughter, has an ill-advised camping trip planned with Jackson. Jo, Mary and Trenner conspire to undermine the trip and dig for evidence that backs up their belief that Jackson is the killer.

Elaborate lights and set switching keep thjigns lively, and scene-transition dances spark moments of unexpected joy.

Filled with surprising twists, incisive observations about gender and age issues and nonstop laughs, "Women in Jeopardy" is a lighthearted treat with messages to boot.

"Women in Jeopardy" plays at the Temple of Music and Art until Feb. 5. Buy tickets here. It plays in Phoenix from Feb. 10 to Feb. 27.