Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Turkeys Go Marching Two by Two

Turkeys, turkeys, turkeys. Turkeys are my dears. And Thanksgiving is my dear, too. So in honor of the Thanksgiving season, here are my new turkeys this year (I already have very many).

First off is this little bowl I found secondhand last week. Given that I already own the matching teacup and saucer, it was a nice find.

This wooden trivet is a handmade item I found at Wheat's Fair Trade Store. Always good to keep them in mind for products like this. 

World Market kept going with their dressed-up turkey this year by putting him on a name card holder. I probably won't be using it in the intended way, so I just got one. 

From their new plates this year, I went for the lady turkey and skipped out on the tom because I already have him on a previous design. I don't mind the clothing on the turkeys, but I do wish they'd left out the purse. It takes away from the tone to me.

Somewhat similar in style is my Masha D'yans calendar. Her work is so fun, and the November illustration is no exception.

One antique store find out of two. This one is made of shells and the other is a green, Navajo folk art piece (I didn't get a picture of that one). I think this is the first Thanksgiving I've had both of them.

Last is the little clay turkey someone gave me. It's sitting happily on my whatnot shelf with all the pigeons. 

Just one week left in the time of the turkeys. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Death of Charlie Parker

Given that normally I'm not much of a jazz fan, I did think I might skip Charlie Parker's Yardbird from Arizona Opera's RED series. When I won some tickets at Aria Jukebox, though, that seemed the perfect excuse to go ahead and see something a little different, something that didn't call to me as much. Oftentimes, after all, it's the risks that lead to exciting and new artistic experiences.

Musically, though, this piece felt more like opera than jazz than I'd been expecting. Maria de Buenos Aires in September, for instance, was the tango opera that had the definite tango feel to the music. I am, however, without any knowledge of music, so this is all I can say on this aspect. I only bring it up to mention that it wasn't the style of the music that ended up keeping me distant.

It was the story. The production takes place after Charlie Parker dies. The concept is that he is writing his last piece, a symphony, before he moves on. Instead of seeing him write a symphony, though, we hear him talk about writing and we see him reliving moments in his life/meeting again important people from his life. And while there are certainly inspirational aspects to his story, mainly his life just came across as incredibly depressing.

A musically brilliant man going up against segregation and discrimination. A boy from a small town who wants to make it big in the city. A man who falls from one relationship into another. A person who finally jumps into the arms of drugs to try and deal. I tend to be a sucker for depressing artist stories, but not of this variety. This plot wasn't really for me, so it was hard to come out of this production either moved or entertained in more than a casual way.

Not to say that there weren't aspects that even I, as I suppose the wrong target audience, didn't appreciate. The performers did well. Stephanie Sanchez as Baroness Nica brought me back to the feeling of Main Stage performances at Symphony Hall. Joshua Stewart as Parker himself had some moments of absolutely sweet and warm notes. Du'Bois A'Keen added a unique element as the dancer giving a visual interpretation of the music. He reminded me somewhat of Emma Shapplin's dancer on her Macadam Flower tour. And this production was a great example of the successful use of projection. They projected onto real bases in order to give the sense of different places while also making each of those places feel solid.

Hmm. I try and make a point of the fact that I don't write reviews; I write reactions. And when it comes to Arizona Opera, I write reactions as a casual yet regular attendee without any knowledge of music or opera. When it comes to Charlie Parker's Yardbird, that leaves me with very little to say. What this production offered to me was a contrast. By being part of the mix, it showed me how wonderful certain other productions are and helped me to see just why they can be so moving.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Theo: Cinnamon Horchata

I had heard tell, through means of that called the Internet, of some exciting flavors from Theo for quite a while. Given that I don't normally order chocolate, such flavors had to wait until finally I saw them at World Market earlier this year. We'll start off with the Cinnamon Horchata, which is a perfect flavor combination to ease us into fall.

As is usual with Theo, the packaging is lovely. Flowers and cinnamon sticks and red patterns and yet it's all kept against a white background so as to stay balanced and not chaotic or overdone.

Now, I didn't get much of the cinnamon flavor on the first bite until the chocolate was almost melted. It is, though, a good cinnamon taste, fresh and with the right amount of strength. You can taste it in a strong sort of way and yet not in such a way that it becomes spicy.

What makes it Cinnamon Horchata, though, you ask? That would be the crisped rice. The odd thing, though, is that Theo has gone with the current trend to use both crisped rice and quinoa. I've already gone over why I don't see the point in doing that, but I also don't understand in this case because rice is what you use in horchata, not quinoa. So if the crisped rice is the only horchata element (and already an element that's kind of stretching the concept), then why take out part of it to use quinoa?

Still, that's all in theory. In practice, the quinoa is indistinguishable from the rice. The crispy texture isn't exactly reminiscent of drinking horchata, though it is true that naming this chocolate Cinnamon Horchata sounds more exciting than Cinnamon with Crisped Rice. So I suppose it works.

Theo makes good milk chocolate, some of my favorite milk chocolates to share with people. This bar contains their 45% milk chocolate, so it's a little richer, which goes well with the cinnamon. And, you know, if you like some crisped rice in chocolate to give it that casual touch, then here it is. Theo does wonderfully with chocolate like this. Chocolate that has a simple flavor (cinnamon in this case) and a touch of uniqueness (the crisped rice) and a solid, quality chocolate base.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Horror of Frankenstein

Despite being perhaps the most famous story of them all, Frankenstein is one of those books that tends to take readers by surprise. Expecting a horrific tale full of action and suspense, they instead find a book filled with pages of philosophical thought. And despite there being movie adaptation after adaptation of the story, most of them focus on the physical scene of bringing the creature to life rather than on all of the philosophical thought (not to say that they don't include it at all; they just put the focus on the action).

Southwest Shakespeare Company is currently performing Quinn Mattfeld's adaptation of Frankenstein. He is part of the new artistic director team of the company. What this production, directed by Patrick Walsh, sought to present was a balance between the action and horror that modern audiences expect from this story and the philosophical elements that Mary Shelley herself wrote in her novel. They allowed the story to get a little dark and spooky at times to go for that Halloweentime feel and they also kept in passages of deep thought about life and death and creation and science and experimentation.

Now, I did overhear someone commenting that the play, while extremely well-acted, was a bit choppy. I did also get the overall sense that much of the audience, if they had read the novel at all, didn't really remember much from it. So what someone else might have found as choppy, I found as their way of balancing out these two elements of the story and keeping it from being a flat, monotone, philosophical piece. I should here note that I'm not calling Shelley's novel flat or boring. Far from it; it's a wonderful work. It's just what we would today call "slow," which doesn't necessarily lend itself towards something like a movie or a play today. And that is, of course, why most of the adaptations take such a different focus.

There was, certainly, more narration in this play than there tends to be in plays. Yet the way that scenes were played out kept things moving. The lighting, too, helped to create that sense of drama and weight and also to express the violence of certain scenes (like Mary's death) that couldn't necessarily be played out live. Joshua Murphy once again ruled the stage as the Creature, playing both the newly-created childlike figure and the classically-educated man. Jesse James Kamps as Dr. Frankenstein brought the obsession of a man fully bent on a project and the true horror of a man faced with a situation to which he can see no solution.

That's the horror of Frankenstein, isn't it? Creation is part of life and death is part of life and creation unleashes a whole new world of possible occurrences which you cannot predict.

You still have two more chances to catch Frankenstein; it's running through this Saturday at the Mesa Arts Center.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Tale of Pericles

Currently in repertory from Southwest Shakespeare Company are Pericles and Frankenstein. The latter I was keen to see from the start but the former I thought I would see if I could but wouldn't be too sad if I had to miss. I knew nothing of Pericles and the name evoked a historical, military story about leaders and duties and valor and dry content. Turns out that such is not the picture at all.

True, Pericles is a king. And there are other leaders and such figures throughout the play. And yet the play is anything but dry. It's emotionally moving and dark and light and fun all at once. It's a fantasy, where impossible things happen, and yet it's grounded in real world feelings, as well. It's a story of love and tragedy and happiness and sorrow. There were moments that were like watching a tragedy and moments akin to watching a comedy and yet somehow the play never quite landed on one or the other: it took the best of both. As someone who tends to favor the tragedies more than the comedies when it comes to Shakespeare, this was the perfect blend.

Stylistically, music was once again a central element to the production, as it often has been lately with Southwest Shakespeare. And this was one of those instances where music lent a painfully tender joining force to the scenes. The main piece they played with was "Sleepsong" which listeners of Secret Garden will recognize. If you're familiar with the song, you'll already know the specific emotional atmosphere it creates. So picture that entwined within live, dramatic scenes of heartbreak and heart-healing.

Usually it's hard for me to watch and follow along with and enjoy a Shakespeare play with which I have no familiarity. Usually it helps to know, going in, the gist of the story or, ideally, to already know the characters and the important scenes and the different possible ways to bring it all together. This time I knew nothing and yet I could follow along so well. Director Quinn Mattfeld and the whole team involved did a great job of creating a production digestible to a modern audience. It was fun and exciting and touching. All of the actors, as well, brought everything together seamlessly, even when they were jumping from one character to another (quite different) character in a single moment, often without even leaving the stage. Joshua Murphy, as Pericles, in particular gave the audience that emotional link.

Pericles isn't someone we can relate to, from one way of looking at it. He's a king, for one thing, and the things that happen to him are quite different from the things that happen to most of us. And yet his emotion was something for us to relate to. I particularly enjoy that we could go through everything that this plot went through and still come to that ending. That's . . . peaceful.

Well done. This was probably one of my favorite productions from Southwest Shakespeare. And you still have a couple more chances to see it, too: it's running through this Saturday.

Monday, November 5, 2018

First Friday at the Opera

The leaves are falling (in other parts of the state) and the mornings are becoming cool and the Thanksgiving turkeys are gobbling all over my apartment and all the artsy things have emerged once more. The summer season is the off season for Arizona in many ways. Now all the shows are starting up again and the outdoor festivals and all sorts of other events, like Arizona Opera's First Friday Aria Jukebox.

I almost thought I might not make it to this one, but it was great that I did. I may have won some tickets to see one of their shows, so in addition to getting an hour of live entertainment for the evening they're also getting me in to a show. Thanks, friends.

As I've described before, the concept of Aria Jukebox is that you get to vote on which songs you would like the performers to sing. Then you get to hear those songs in a small setting. So it's a chance to get a close-up glimpse of performance that is quite different from going to Symphony Hall and seeing an elaborate production far away on the stage. Going to the opera is wonderful but so is getting to see some of these artists in person and see what it is like to make performance your craft. There is also, of course, the human element of seeing someone in person right in front of you versus simply hearing their voice coming from a stage. It's a bit behind the scenes.

Compared with last year, this event was more brief. They, for the most part, took out the Q&A, so that definitely shortened things. If you are taking part in other First Friday events, then I can see how more people would be willing to attend this one knowing that it won't take up the bulk of the evening (although I personally don't mind it going longer). I wonder, too, if they might consider having it start later. Six can be a little early for people to have a chance to make it over on a Friday night.

Once more, events like this remind me how great it is to live in the city. I love pretty nature and open landscapes . . . and I love the arts. So while I am in the city, I'll take advantage of all that it has to offer. The Phoenix area has much to offer from the world of the arts.

Friday, November 2, 2018

TCHO: Banana Nut

Well, well, banana chocolate certainly has turned out to be almost a new trend, hasn't it? We've gone from no banana chocolate to banana chocolate everywhere. This time it's in the Banana Nut Dark Chocolate from TCHO. And this time there are also almonds, which sounded less intriguing to me, but okay, let's go for it.

You can see those almonds quite visible on both sides of the chocolate bar. The chocolate comes in with that midway-dark aroma, which makes sense given that it has a 55% cocoa content. On the first bite, I tasted almonds, then some semisweet chocolate chip chocolate, then some salt, and then maybe some banana. The third bite had more banana. Said banana had a feeling halfway between a banana chip and a dried banana. Given that these are in fact freeze dried bananas, that feeling is about right.

The gist of it is that you get more or less banana in different bites depending on how big or small those bites are and how much banana you're getting in each bite. TCHO definitely did, though, capture the banana taste. Possibly the banana effect is stronger here than in many of the banana chocolates I've been trying. Maybe the banana pieces are bigger? That's hard to tell, though, given that there always seems to be a second texture element, the almonds in this case. I'll get back to those in a second, though.

First let me give a word on the chocolate. I suppose this is dark chocolate instead of milk to give more of an idea of quality but it's that semisweet chocolate chip chocolate, which is nice in its way but makes me feel caught in between two things. I wouldn't have minded just going with milk chocolate.

The almonds I'm not sure about. Whether or not they were necessary is, I suppose, an opinion. I imagine that they add to the concept more than to anything else: almonds sound hip and healthy these days. Though it's also true that if you look at a different side of things, the almonds can instead bring you around to the dessert side. Chocolate chips and bananas and nuts are maybe almond chocolate chip cookies with banana slices and ice cream? Yeah, this chocolate is a decent concept of such a dessert. And TCHO often goes for dessert type flavor combinations, so it fits.

In the end, I'd say it works.