Monday, November 11, 2019

Macbeth Doth Come

When it comes to the Shakespeare plays that are more easily digestible to the audience and those that are less easy to follow, Macbeth falls into the former category. Not because it is shallow but because it has approachable concepts: ambition, greed, glory, murder, fear, and horror. You can easily explain the plot in a sentence or two, so you always know at least the gist of what's going on, even if it's your first time seeing the play.

This was not my first time seeing Macbeth performed live, but it's easy to say that Southwest Shakespeare Company (with Drew Shirley directing) found a way to make this a unique performance and yet also one that did not take a less traditional approach. "Less traditional" usually means a modern setting or the addition of music or silly props--that sort of thing. It was traditional in the sense that they kept the time period and kept most of the classic elements, but it was unique because they mixed things up.

Most notably, the wytches. The three wytches are one, performed by Elizabeth Broeder. She plays a strange, demon-possessed-like creature that feels truly evil and wrong. Instead of three witches dancing around a cauldron (an image with which we are all overly familiar with from fiction by now), they gave us something to disturb us fresh. And she sticks around. She doesn't disappear after the start of the play; she stays, leaking her poison further and deeper, all the way to that final scene, that hint of the offer of evil that the future will always bring to each person.

In their earlier scenes, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth felt more like people, just people. And in their later, haunted scenes, they are us in our darkest moments. They are haunted by horrific deeds that will soon be made public. We may not be doing the same (hopefully not), but we are still, in our darkest moments, hidden and alone, in deep corners wondering how we can ever recover from what we have done or what has been done to us. They are us when we crave escape and don't know how to find it. Kyle Sorrell gave that style of line delivery that pulls you immediately into the feeling of an existential crisis.

On the practical side, the lighting of this show was beautiful, so I must give a nod to Lighting Designer Dallas Nichols. There were shadows of the actors on both walls that extend out from the sides of the stage; this helped to create that eerie atmosphere but also to set up that concept of being watched. The lights on the stage, as well, set up strange color and obscurity and focus, whatever suited each moment. In fact, the lighting was a character of its own.

Now, despite what I'd said, there was a big way in which SSC departed from the traditional. They switched male for female. They made Banquo female. I thought at first they had just cast a woman for the role until another character referred to Banquo as "she." And they switched Macduff and Lady Macduff. So it is in fact Lady Macduff who kills Macbeth. It all went along with the gender concepts in Lady Macbeth's speech; she asks for all of the tender, female parts of her character to vanish so that she can help Macbeth in the dark and evil tasks ahead. So to have her give this speech and then to see both male and female characters taking part in different types of events shows that evil is not male or female, tenderness is not male or female, and both male and female face temptation and the option to choose one way or another, to choose right or to choose wrong. If, however, you are not interested in exploring such gender questions, they did these switches in such a simple way that you can simply ignore them if you wish. That is, they weren't distracting to the main events of the story.

This was one of the best plays Southwest Shakespeare has put on in a while. Partly because it's Macbeth but also because they approached it so well. They made it freshly creepy, and I can say nothing better than that.

Exploring Downtown

"I should go to ____ sometime." "Someday I'll ____." Yeah, most of us find ourselves saying these words for years before we finally do the things we talk about--if we even ever do. A couple of weeks ago I got to two more of my "I should" activities.

I'm in Downtown Phoenix often, but only one side of it. So I tend to just leave the things on the other side for later. These included the tour of the Orpheum Theatre and the Wells Fargo Museum. You'll also want to note that both of these are free, so all you have to pay for is parking. If it's worth it to you, you can also do Park & Ride and take the light rail in to save a little. Your $4 day pass will also let you get closer to any other museums you might want to see that day--if you want to make a full day out of it. The Rosson House, the Science Center, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Heard Museum are just a few.

Orpheum Theatre tours are generally every other Tuesday at 12 and 1:30. Be sure and check the website to make sure you have the right day. The next tours will be on November 19th. You meet at the marquee to begin. Note that, like when you go to a show at the Orpheum, the entrance is not on the corner of the building; keep walking west. While some people (especially perhaps if you're visiting Phoenix) might want to go on the tour just to see the theatre, it's worth going even if you've been in before. I've been to a show there, but I still wanted to learn more.

The tour focused on the history and architecture. Our group was around ten to fifteen people. The tour moves from the lobby to the main seating area to the balcony. You have the chance, then, to sit in seats on both levels and compare where you might want to sit. Balconies always win for me--I get a better view. Then again, a taller person might find the Orpheum's balcony a little cramped and yet that person also would have a clear view sitting on the bottom because no one's head will block their view. One of my favorite parts of the tour? Behind the scenes. We saw the area where performers would get ready to go on stage, the green rooms, and the stage. You can read up on history, but only by going on a tour like this can you stand on the stage (unless, of course, you're a performer, but most of us aren't).

Two practical notes. I'd thought that the tour was an hour (and I heard others say the same), but it was almost two. So plan for that. It was also very cold, so if you're a thin-blooded Arizonan like me, maybe bring a sweater.

The Wells Fargo Museum is just a step away, so it makes for the perfect before or after tour activity. If you just walk through, sure, you can be done in five minutes. But if you read everything, you can be there from half an hour to an hour. They have a few pieces of art and artifacts to look at and some interactive activities. If you go with kids (or you're an adult who likes to play, too), they'll love the phones and telegraphs. It's a nice little opportunity to get a glimpse back into the prairie days.

So there you have it. There is always more to do, more to see, even right where you are. Even the little things, the things that might not take up much time and that we therefore don't set aside time for, are worth seeing and worth doing. Let's keep exploring.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Theo: Vanilla Bean Marshmallows

November has come and since I've already reviewed what will most likely be my only fall chocolate, it's time to start in on the winter chocolates. I might as well begin early to make sure I get through them all. I've talked about all of Theo's Christmas chocolate bars before, but this year they also have some chocolate-covered marshmallows. I'm thrilled for a couple of reasons. One, they're something new for me to talk about. Two, they're a seasonal and sweet and casual yet also fair trade chocolate product. Three, they're the type of product that you usually have to get from a boutique store--available in a grocery store.

While I'm not big about marshmallows, they're nice sometimes, or as a garnish (I'm not the type of person to get tempted to eat the whole bag). It's also true, though, that there are two types of marshmallows. There are grocery store marshmallows and there are gourmet marshmallows. These are the latter, at least as far as they can be with a shelf life of many months. So that's why I was eager to try Theo's approach to marshmallows even if I'm not necessarily a marshmallow person.

The box is plain and pretty; Theo usually knows to keep things simple. Yet it is still enough that you could give it as a gift if you wanted; it would be a nice addition to a gift basket. I'm all decked out for Thanksgiving right now, so the box had to settle for being photographed with a turkey instead of a Christmas tree. Inside is a bag more plain than the box; it isn't for looks, just for keeping the marshmallows sealed and airtight. So if you do bring these out for a Christmas party, set them out on a pretty plate or in a little bowl first.

They are smaller than I'd expected, which I appreciate. If, like me, you prefer them as a garnish, this works better. And if not, then you can just eat more of them. (There are about fourteen, by the way.) Maybe because they are fairly small, they are quite pretty for plain chocolate-covered somethings. They are pretty to hold, as well. They feel so soft in the hand, soft and nostalgic, like all of those terrible packaged desserts we're fed as children that tasted so good when we were children but not so much now that we're adults.

Cutting one in half for the picture was a delicate procedure given the softness, as well. And leaning in to smell them brought a rich milk chocolate scent that would be unexpected except that I already knew that this was Theo's 45% cocoa milk chocolate.

Biting in is soft. The chocolate flavor of rich and deep milk chocolate gives way to marshmallow with great flavor and texture. It's the type of marshmallow that you can very much enjoy it even if you're not a marshmallow person. The milk chocolate is darker but the marshmallow is sweet; then you finish off with more milk chocolate, so the flavor experience is well-rounded. It's a sweet confection but it has richness (even vanilla is technically rich, as well). This is what you might call a "grown-up" sweet.

You can eat them on their own, make a dessert with them, attempt to s'mores them, or use them for hot chocolate. (Technically, yes, this is hot cocoa not hot chocolate, but I didn't really grow up hearing hot cocoa, so that just sounds weird to me.) My hot chocolate recipe: heat 3/4 cup milk or non-milk in a saucepan with a teaspoon of cocoa powder and a teaspoon of sugar or honey, add cinnamon or other flavoring if you like, and stir or whisk. I thought that the marshmallows would melt quickly, but the chocolate shell prevents them from doing so. One of the halves that I'd cut did melt in, so I'd recommend cutting these in half or even quarters if you'd like some marshmallow melt. Otherwise they just kind of sit on top looking cute and then sit in the bottom of your cup afterwards looking sad waiting for you to scoop them up with a spoon.

These also come in Cinnamon and in Peppermint; hopefully I will get to reviewing those at some point this season, as well. They're definitely great for winter parties or self-spoiling.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Beginning Emerges from the End

Perhaps YA simply isn't my genre. That's why I lost interest in Gayle Forman and went from greatly enjoying her books to not even reading her new works. And that's why I thought Divergent was great and Carve the Mark also but its sequel not so much--and why I have such mixed feelings about Veronica Roth's latest collection of short stories, The End and Other Beginnings.

Maybe it's because I had put too much pressure on Veronica Roth. I loved that her characters pondered morality and often, in connection to that, chose a different path to the crowd. As someone who also chooses a little differently, I connected with that. So to come and find all the usual YA references to teens smoking and exploring sex and not caring about anything other than their own happiness, well, that made me feel like I'd lost my connection to her writing. I felt like there was a new shallowness.

But I kept reading. There are six stories in this book and they perhaps do tend to get better as you go along. They are sci-fi stories set in different times and places. So every forty pages, you're jumping into a new environment and atmosphere. Veronica Roth definitely has a talent for creating places and groups of characters. Some plots are about love, some about friendship, and some about family.

All of the stories, though, are about discovery and about emotional struggles. Some characters face depression, some suicidal thoughts, some grief, some confusion, and some regret. Along the way, they discover how to make peace with their feelings and how to let others help them on their journeys. More and more, YA is focusing on such themes--which is good, though it does also mean that they're starting to feel simply like tropes. But that's a cynical perspective, I know. What I ought to say is that some of these themes are quite powerful. I definitely prefer the theme of friendship that prevailed in something like "Vim and Vigor" to the basic love story of "Inertia."

"Armored Ones" brought us back into the world of Carve the Mark, which was great to get to dive into again. Funnily enough, "The Transformationist" had what I found to be an inspiring quote--that ended up being part of the past that the main character, Otho, had to make his peace with. "'This is what we fear to admit . . . Transformation will destroy you. It will unmake you. . . And here is the true horror . . . You must let it.'" That sums up life, doesn't it? Change happens and pain happens, so it is up to us to let the changes that happen help us grow. So I wish that this story had been longer and able to cover more ground. I wish that Otho, like Tris finding a way to incorporate the values she had been raised with in Abnegation even after she joined Dauntless, had found a way to take the good pieces from the sect he'd been raised in and let all of the bad parts fall away. I don't know, maybe that's an ignorant perspective from me, from someone who wasn't raised in a traumatic way. But all I saw was who Otho wasn't; I also wanted to see who he was. But I guess even just letting go of the past is an important part of the personal journey.

And personal journeys were what these stories were all about. I still have super mixed feelings about this book as a whole (one blog post isn't really enough to talk about much), but even that is I suppose a positive effect from the reading experience. These stories were thought-provoking as a whole.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Harriet: Strength of Will and Faith

I must thank Downton Abbey for showing me the trailer for Harriet, otherwise the movie might have slipped right under my radar. I try to look at the list of upcoming movies to catch ones like this, but sometimes they appear and disappear so quickly. It's a shame, really. Harriet Tubman is a figure both of historical significance and timeless (that is, also modern) thematic importance. She was a woman who became famous by the strength of her actions, actions achieved by her perseverance and unbending will. We remember her simply because she did what was right--is there any better legacy? So a movie based on her should be viewed widely, not on the limited scope that it undoubtedly will be viewed.

One of the great things about this film was that it took the historical approach while also maintaining Harriet's faith. There is in fact enough faith in this story for it to be a faith film--so I wish that all the faith media outlets would promote it as hardcore as they might promote a faith film. It's on a similar level as Amazing Grace, which was the story of William Wilburforce's political efforts to abolish the British slave trade. I was pretty obsessed with that movie for a while; I love when faith and history, two interests of mine, intersect (maybe also because I don't tend to like "Christian movies" that much. They can be a little too Hallmark for my tastes; I often better like how the historical films include faith).

Perhaps unsurprising given the focus on faith, but what was also refreshing about this movie was that it did not include vengeance or even judgement. Harriet doesn't want to start violence and burn down white homes and torture her former "master." She just wants to free people, to bring them out of a living hell. She wants to do good, not ill. Even her final confrontation with Gideon is not about rubbing it in his face that she has won; it's about sorrow that he has chosen loss for himself. That's what stood out about their interactions to me: the film wasn't trying to put judgment on him but to show the tragedy of how he was convincing himself that he didn't care about Harriet as a person. The style of the movie just lets the audience sit back and think about the individual choices that each character makes.

Harriet. Gideon. Marie, who is a refined and accomplished woman who chooses to help others, even when it leads to her violent death. Walter, who cannot help but see the good that Harriet is doing and decides to join her in it despite (or because of) the actions in his past. The choices we make, they compose who we are. We make the choice now, right now. The past has already happened. The future we cannot know. But the choice that we make right now, that is ours.

If we could all be as bold and unbending and as good as Harriet Tubman, then so many things in this world would be so very different. All good to this movie for simply portraying her as a woman who made the good choice--again and again. Her strength of will, strength of character, and strength of faith were remarkable.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

A Truncated Look at Wildlife and the Fear Concept

I say that this is a truncated look at Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium because I didn't end up walking through the whole park and I took very little pictures to share on here and I'm also ending this post on a roundabout topic. The only other time I had been to Wildlife was probably about 17 years ago--so they've expanded and added quite a bit since then. Yet mainly I think we stayed on the original part of the park.

What's quite nice about Wildlife is that it has somewhat more of an Out of Africa feel than the Phoenix Zoo does--yet it has been at its location for long enough that it has much of the wonderful tree growth that the Phoenix Zoo has. I always say at Out of Africa that I'd rather the animals have it well than us; I'd rather any money go to make them happy. But trees are nice, all the same. Wildlife has a good amount of shade for a hot day or just to create outdoor atmosphere.

Certain animals I'm used to visiting at Out of Africa, so what was nice from Wildlife specifically? Birds, definitely birds. They have a varied assortment of birds, large and small, familiar and exotic. A precious turkey, a condor, a king vulture, and ostriches were among my favorites. Their Dragon World exhibit was naturally another favorite of mine. While he wasn't in Dragon World, their white alligator was gorgeous; he's like a sculpture of soft marble.

We saw their young giraffe. Goodness, they have so many giraffes. And I can't remember ever seeing a young one before. He was especially cute to see because he's already so tall that he doesn't look small--so he just makes you double back and realize how tall the adults are.

And then there was the aquarium side. I'm sure I've mentioned from time to time that I have something of a fear of aquariums. For the last close to twenty years, I've just been avoiding them entirely. Last time I went to Wildlife I waited outside while my family went in--even though I was only about eleven years old at the time.

Today, though, I'm trying to overcome that fear. Actually, I'm trying to dissect it and discover where it comes from so that I can mend that, but that's another story. Point is, I specifically wanted to go in some of the aquarium buildings on this trip. And goodness, what shocker that first one was. It was the River Monsters building. I walked in and it was dark and the tanks were kind of hazy in the back (that's what bothers me most, I've realized) and there were faux trees (that almost bothers me most than the water, I've learned). I wanted to back out. Or cry. Or run out crying.

And then a field trip group walked in. Ten kids running around and talking in excitement about the fish did wonders for me. They grounded me and focused me. I looked at the fish. I looked at the walls that made up the back of the tanks, reminding myself that I could see the whole tank and everything in it. I focused on the clear space where we were all walking. I focused on aquariums as something that we all go to see out of interest. Throughout the other buildings, I still had to remind myself sometimes (audibly, of course, because it helps to say out loud that you're in a bit of a struggle) that it was okay. And you know what? It was. I mean, I'll still not make aquariums a destination, but I'll try and not avoid them anymore. I'll try and not avoid fear anymore. I'll try and explain why I'm afraid and then explain why I don't need to be.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Stars are Faint

The stars are faint;
they drench the night, anyway.

The whispers are heard
but only by a few.

The leaves blow with the wind,
even when nothing else moves.

Listen and you'll see.

Remember and you'll forget.

Touch this moment and it will end.

The past is blossoming into the present
and the future is interceding on behalf of this moment.