Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Book Report: "Ulysses"

UlyssesUlysses by James Joyce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one was a tough nut to crack, but I fault my own ignorance as the reason I didn't like it all that much.

Joyce's stream-of-consciousness writing -- no doubt groundbreaking and edgy for its time -- is also meandering and obtuse. I feel that this is a book you have to re-read and study to truly appreciate, and lack the time or inclination to approach that mountain.

I'm glad to have "Ulysses" in my rear-view mirror. It had sparks of wild intelligence but overall was a homework-style chore. Still, it leaves me curious about some of James Joyce's other highly-praises works.

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Thursday, March 24, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Tootsie"

Filled with "did I really just hear/see that?!?" moments, "Tootsie" is a wildcard of a stage musical. Delivering consistent laughs, workmanlike choreography and inspired musical numbers, it's a modern splash in the face to Broadway traditions, in all the best of ways.

If it's possible to have a "woke" version of a story ingrained with such a problematic premise, this musical is just that. The plot acknowledges the inherent offensiveness to the LGBTQ community in Michael's ruses. The lighthearted, self-aware touch keeps the show tiptoeing on the socially acceptable edge of propriety.

"Tootsie" is also a comedy with something to say. The adaptation of the 1982 Dustin Hoffman film -- which has aged remarkably poorly -- is a wild and raucous dive into the insecurities inherent in acting, aging and navigating the dating world. 

The remarkably talented Drew Becker thrives in the multifaceted role as frustrated actor Michael Dorsey, who crafts the identity of Dorothy Michaels in an effort to land a role in a musical adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet."

This is Becker's show, but Alec Ruiz is in full-fledge scene burglar mode as Michael's cynical pal, Jeff, whose profanity-laden tirade of a number in "Jeff Sums it Up" is by far the show's best song, followed by the frantic "What's Gonna Happen" by the delightfully unhinged Payton Reilly as Sandy.

Also impressive are Leyla Ali in the role of Julie -- whom Michael pursues romantically both as Michael and Dorothy -- and Lukas James Miller as Max, the ditsy reality show star shoehorned into the musical-within-a-musical ina  cynical effort to sell tickets.

Ensemble members including Lexia Baldachino, Kyra Christopher and Michael Bingham are impressive in wildly entertaining background numbers, including a post-bow, full-cast satire of acting warmup techniques.

Good-natured while unabashedly vulgar, "Tootsie" is a riot of a time, bursting with cheer and razzle-dazzle.

"Tootsie" plays through March 27 at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Book Report: "My Inventions"

My InventionsMy Inventions by Nikola Tesla
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A man ahead of not only his own time, but our time as well, Nikola Tesla provides a fascinating insight into his life, perspective and vision for the future.

Driven and brimming with a sense of overpowering creativity, he sees not only himself, but all of humanity, as sophisticated robots who only believe they have a sense of free will as they react to sensory prompts and their internal engines.

It's fascinating to peek with Tesla into his childhood years, when he survived mutliple close scrapes with death, endured bullying from his overbearing father, and overcame doubts and doldrums surrounding him to strive for a future only he could see brimming.

Street smart, though, Tesla was not. His oblivious naivete is charming. He speaks of Thomas Edison as a great guy, not bitter about the ways the businessman exploited him. He also dismisses conspiracy theories that the government undermined his research, and pontificates about how the creation of instantaneous death rays might bring about world peace.

His awareness of the shape of technology, though, is mesmerizing. He forecasts the internet, androids with A.I. indistinguishable from human intelligence, global wifi and free global energy sources. He confidently speaks of these things as though they are sure to come. He is pleased and humble to have been what he sees as a dutiful cog in the machine of progress.

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Monday, March 21, 2022

Book Report: "The Red Badge of Courage"


The Red Badge of CourageThe Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen Crane's tale of Civil War hardships is a fascinating plunge into the fog of battle.

The author's technique of withholding key information about the identity of the protagonist helps draw you in as a reader, making your imagination work to piece together context clues to paint a picture of his stature and mindset.

Raw, appealing details about the difficulties and trials brought on by combat abound, with a philosophical struggle between self-preservation and patriotic valor lurking at the forefront.

I wasn't expecting to be as moved as I was by the brutal and intelligent writing. Crane's work is a moving monument to the jarring tribulation of service and combat.

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Friday, March 18, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Jersey Boys"

Making a compelling case that the Four Seasons deserve equal footing with the Beatles and the Beach Boys, "Jersey Boys" is an incredibly thrilling, fast-moving and emotionally complex story of a band's rise, fall and redemption.

Wafting its energetic, "Behind the Music"-style tell-all story along with the pacing of a concert, the show is a feel-good romp that captures both the letter and the spirit of the group's humble, poverty and crime-pocked origins to dizzying Ed Sullivan Show and world tour heights. 

The infighting and ego-driven self-destruction that follow lead to introspective nuance that fills out the philosophical weight behind a cavalcade of hits that might otherwise seem like bubblegum pop anthems.

No matter how solid the storytelling, "Jersey Boys" would be nothing without pitch-perfect casting and inspired performances. This touring performance lacks neither.

Jon Hacker delivers a spellbinding three-octave vocals as Frankie Valli, leading the way as Eric Chambers, Matt Faucher and Devon Goffman. The robotically quaint choreography nails the sound and spirit of the group, rocketing you decades back through time to make you feel as though you're at genuine Four Seasons shows. 

I was particularly impressed by the nuances in the group's chemistry and harmonies as they roll through their career. Watching the Four Seasons evolve from a ragtag, unconfident group of street performers to a polished machine of 45-rpm immortality is breathtaking.

An overwhelming sense of joy courses through the audience throughout the show, and cast members are eagerly appreciative of the energy, basking in the adulation after show-stopping turns. The smiles on these Four Seasons facsimiles can't be faked, no matter how talented the actors may be. 

This is true-blue channeling of the spirit of the 1960s and 70s, and well worthy of every clap and squeal of delight they earn.

"Jersey Boys" plays at Centennial Hall through March 20. Buy tickets here. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Book Report: "Fingerprints of the Gods"

Fingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth's Lost CivilizationFingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth's Lost Civilization by Graham Hancock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Graham Hancock's bizarre book fueled my guilty-pleasure interest in "Ancient Aliens"-style pseudo science meshed with mythology.

Largely a travelogue interspersed with collected myths that support his sprawling theories, all coalescing into several contradictory and loosely intertwined conclusions, such as that the world will end in the year 2000, 2012 or 2030.

Also amusing is the theory that remnants of the great ancient civilization responsible for building temples throughout the world is buried beneath miles of Antarctic ice. And that the purpose of the temples is to signify the cyclical destruction and reinvention of the global populace.

Could there be a kernel of truth buried somewhere beneath Hancock's haystack of bizarre non sequiturs? I'd like to think so. I appreciate books, no matter how sloppily researched, that stimulate a childlike sense of wonder and yearning to solve the great mysteries.

Hancock's book does at least that.

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Monday, March 07, 2022

Warpzone Twitch Stream launches

 Here's the first episode. I'll talk games, TV and movies with other KGUNers at 10 a.m. Mondays.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

BATA Opening Downtown

Owner and executive chef Tyler Fenton's small plate restaurant BATA is opening at 35 E. Toole, in a converted 1930s historic warehouse.

Here are a few dishes the restaurant offers:

Slow-Cooked SD Halibut - with mushroom dashi, Arizona barley, and charred kale

Grilled Pork Belly - with charred onion and kohlrabi 

                    Charred Brussels Sprouts - with black apple and salsa seca

Chiricahua -mezcale oaxacan rum, cherry shrub and egg white

Chocolate Mousse - with smoked almond tart and Arizona olive oil

Pork Loin - with charred squash, pecan, and coffee amino 

Apis Mellifera - small batch borboun, Southern Arizona honey, bitters