Saturday, April 23, 2022

Book Report: "Walden"

WaldenWalden by Henry David Thoreau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thoreau is proudly the oddest duck on the pond, hurling himself into a self-imposed monkishly minimalist lifestyle by building a cabin and living off the land for two years.

Understandably, the time spent lost in the woods made him even loopier than he presumably started.

The author makes impassioned pleas to live the life without comforts or extravagance, or even the company of others. His seeming lack of sex or social drives is robotic in the way that predates Sheldon Cooper.

The peek inside the mind of such a man is fascinating, even if he indulges his compulsions to a dull degree at times. On several occasions he runs off meaningless statistics about pond depth, his day labor wages and his product costs. This is a man happily lost inside the depths of his own mental interiors. "Walden" is such a sassy and ludicrously pompous read that it is impossible not to be absorbed in some degree.

My favorite passage was his intricately detailed play-by-play of red and black ants doing battle. Without sarcasm or pretense, he praises the valor of the soldiers as they dismember one another.

In a sense, Thoreau is one of the ants and collective social constructs are the other. He rears his pincers with instictive ferocity.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Hadestown"

Pulsing with entrancing rhythms, tireless choreography and heartbreakingly subtle performances, "Hadestown" seizes control of the audience and never loosens its grip throughout its 150-minute running time.

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2019, took home eight Tony awards. The national tour was planned in short order, dazzling fans across the nation with its ragtime blues-infused take on "Orpheus and Eurydice."

Carried by Anais Mitchell's inspired book and lyrics, "Hadestown" thrives on its brilliant cast. In the lead roles are golden-voiced Nicholas Barasch as Orpheus and vulnerable yet fierce Morgan Siobhan Green as Eurydice. Their star-crossed romance is the focal point of the drama, with Orpheus vowing to change the seasons with his voice and retrieve his fleeting love from damnation.

Levi Kreis is an affable emcee as the quick-witted, game show-style narrator Hermes, and looming ever large in the background is the booming voice of Kevyn Morrow, who inhabits Hades with a blistering fire. His weakness is his pompous, overbearing bride, Persephone, played with sass and flair by Kimberly Marable.

Even though the show may be padded out with two or three more songs per act than it truly needs to tell its story, it manages to crank out a succession of toe-tapping bangers. Highlights include "Way Down Hadestown," "Road to Hell" and "When the Chips Are Down."

The latter comes courtesy of the diva trio of Fates (Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne), whose sprightly lyrics taunt and mock the lead characters. The playful interaction between the actors seems genuine and vibrant. These performers truly feel each others' vibes and channel their characters with inspired empathy.

A remarkable feat of passion and ecstacy, "Hadestown" drives home its themes with a relentless momentum of a fever dream. Its descent into hell unearths heavenly epiphanies.

"Hadestown" plays through April 17 at Centennial Hall. Purchase tickets here.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Book Report: "Black Like Me"

Black Like MeBlack Like Me by John Howard Griffin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While some aspects of John Howard Griffin's methods are ethically and logistically questionable, his goals and storytelling ability are unimpeachable.

Allegedly disguising himself as a Black man in 1959 in order to explore racial injustices in the Deep South, Griffin's travelogue is beautiful, insightful and powerful. His work set the stage for a decade of cultural revolution.

Remarkably brave, though alarmingly insensitive by today's standards, Griffin's social experiment paid off grandly while exacting a significant personal sacrifice.

It is hard for me to believe that a cocktail of drugs, UV exposure and makeup convincingly transformed Griffin's appearance from white to Black. But his heart was clearly in the right place, and the book that resulted was an admirable work of empathy that no doubt managed to change hearts and minds of the mid-20th century. The spirit of his effort lives on today.

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