Ashes to Ashes

Sholem Asch is a young, hungry Jewish playwright who wishes to write stories about his people that show they are just as flawed and human as anyone else.  Members of his own community refuse to let him produce his play, The God of Vengeance, in Yiddish theatre as they perceive his work as anti-Semitic, so he takes the show on the road.  After a long, successful run in Europe, he manages to bring his show to Broadway.  Then trouble really begins for his show.  This is Indecent by Paula Vogel and is currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

Assuredly, this is one of the most difficult and challenging shows I’ve seen produced in quite a while.  Ms Vogel’s script borrows from quite a few genres:  drama, musical, comedy, Yiddish, play in a play, and wraps it in a sheen of surrealism that gives the production an almost dreamlike quality.  This quality is well suited to this show as it is a show of memories of what once happened.  Going along with the motif of memory, which is a tricky thing, after all, some of the events depicted are fiction or embellished.

Ms Vogel’s script well handles the difficulties Asch faced with his script.  Some of the subject matter and themes in The God of Vengeance such as blasphemy, prostitution, and homosexuality are still taboo by today’s standards, let alone in the early 1900s when they would have been viewed as downright abhorrent by society, especially American society.  Even worse was the fact that many missed the point Asch was attempting to make due to only seeing the surface of his work and not digging a little deeper.

Truthfully, this show would test the mettle of any director, but Susan Clement-Toberer rises to the challenge and manages to merge all of this play’s disparate elements into a rock solid production.  Not only has she led her troupe to stellar, nuanced performances, but she was quite creative with her staging and transitions.  From having her actors sitting on stage before the show, still as statues until the lights breathe life into them, to original transitions using song, dance, and music, this show is a master’s level class in direction and storytelling.

Ezra Colon sizzles in his Blue Barn debut as Sholem Asch.  He well essays the young Asch as a youthful, energetic artist bound and determined to tell stories about his people.  One of my favorite moments was the respectful defiance he showed to his leaders and peers at the play’s first reading as he knows what he is saying with his play and is confident that he can find ears receptive to its message, even if those ears are others than his own community.

Colon is equally as impressive as a middle aged Asch and he somehow seems to age decades in a matter of moments with a slump of his shoulders and a haggard, wearied expression on his face.  His whole being seems to wonder if his work is a noble fight or a curse as trouble mounts for the Broadway production.  He finds himself unable to properly defend the work or his troupe due to his limited command of English and things he has witnessed as part of a delegation which have broken him in half spiritually.

Jonathan Purcell provides a powerhouse performance as Lemml.  He works wonders as the shy tailor whose eyes are opened by Asch’s work which he considers a life changing masterpiece from the very beginning.  Watching him tentatively begin a new career as stage manager for The God of Vengeance to growing into a confident, new person who takes full command of the show to keep it alive is a complete and utter joy.

Suzanne Withem is marvelous in multiple roles.  With a pair of glasses and shawl, she is Asch’s supportive, loving wife, Madje, and the first fan of his bold script.  With a change of clothes and a slightly vacuous expression, she becomes Virginia McFadden, an inexperienced performer who has taken the role solely to shock her parents on multiple levels.  But her best role is that of Ruth/Reina, the Yiddish actress who originally portrays Rifkele in the American production of The God of Vengeance.  She is proud of her Yiddish identity and has much in common with her character, right down to knowing the love of another woman.  Her scenes with her lover, Dorothee Nelson/Dine, are some of the best in the show as they are charged with a raw power and honesty and I consider “The Rain Scene” one of the best moments I’ve ever seen mounted on a stage.

Leanne Hill Carlson also lights it up in multiple roles.  But her two best are Freida Neimann, a slightly egotistical and prejudiced actress who finds her characters through intuition as opposed to reading the script and Dorothee Nelson/Dine, the American Manke for The God of Vengeance.  Her chemistry with Ms Withem just ripples with life and she well plays the age old agony of love vs career as the chance to be a Broadway star nearly causes her to sever her relationship with Ruth/Reina as well as subsume her ethnic identity to be more palatable to American audiences.

Strong supporting performances are supplied by D. Scott Glasser, especially as Nakhmen, a Jewish scholar who opposes Asch’s script; Judy Radcliff, as her portrayal of Esther Stockton playing the role of Sarah in The God of Vegeance provides some wonderful levity; and Jonathan Wilhoft who shines as I.L. Peretz, a Polish writer who gently advises Asch to burn his script.  Samuel Bertino, Kate Williams, and Olga Gulieva also do fine work as a trio of musicians who provide the score of the production.

Steven Williams provides a beautiful, broken down stage with its cracked and crumbling walls and raised platform.  His lights are equally good and quite ethereal at points, especially with the ghostly blue of “The Rain Scene”.  Georgiann Regan’s costumes are spot on.  Fine examples of her work are the quiet elegance of Asch’s suits, the well-made, but lower quality garb for Lemml, and the deadly accurate Hasidic dresses for the women.  Bill Kirby sounds are inspired and his use of artillery effects towards the end had me jump out of my seat.  Melanie Walters provides some unique choreography for scene transitions.

Indecent is the epitome of the Blue Barn mission and makes for an interesting case study into The God of Vengeance. Was it the work that was corrupting or was it corrupted by others once it hit American shores?  What was the play’s truth and did it get lost in the presentation?  Was it a curse or a blessing?  You may ask yourselves these and other questions as you watch the production.  You may not come up with a definitive answer, but you’ll certainly have a lot of food for thought.

Indecent plays at the Blue Barn through April 14.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm with the exception of a 6pm performance on April 7.  The shows for March 23, 30, and April 6 are sold out.  Tickets are $35 ($30 for seniors) and are available at www.bluebarn.org or at the box office at 402-345-1576.  Due to mature subject matter, this show is not suitable for children.  The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

Advertisements

A Bridge Between Them

Francesca Johnson, an Iowa housewife originally from Italy, looks forward to a few days to herself when her family heads off to the 4H Nationals at the Indiana State Fair.  When her family leaves, a well-traveled National Geographic photographer, Robert Kincaid, arrives to ask for directions to the Roseman Bridge to complete his photo assignment.  Robert has recently visited Italy which sparks a fast friendship between himself and Francesca which evolves into something more and forces the two to make some life altering choices.  This is The Bridges of Madison County by Marsha Norman with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and based on Robert James Waller’s novel.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I was quite surprised by this show.  I had been expecting a schmaltzy love story, but what I got was a well framed tale that built slowly, organically, and subtly.  This story is about much, much more than a man and a woman falling in love.  It’s about the circumstances that brought them together, the forces that drive them, and the hard choices they have to make about their respective futures.  I especially liked how natural the affair comes about.  There’s nothing forced about it.  It was just something that happened which leaves it up to the viewer to decide on the morality of what goes down.  The show is aided by Brown’s score, especially as interpreted by Jim Boggess and his splendid orchestra.  The songs are almost internal monologues and span a series of emotions that I have never seen before in a musical.

A story that builds as methodically as this one requires a very gentle touch with the direction and Kimberly Faith Hickman provides that touch and then some.  Ms Hickman strikes each emotional beat dead on the mark.  It’s never too much or too little.  The pacing is phenomenal and keeps the attention of the audience with every gradual revelation of the plot.  She also has a killer set of performers to tell this story, especially in her 4 leads.

That previous sentence may have made you take pause, but there are 4 leads for this production.  Kimberly Faith Hickman made the decision to double cast the two leads and each pairing takes one down a very interesting variant of the story.  In order to give readers a complete vision of this play, I watched the show twice so I could see how each set of leads interpreted the tale.

Mackenzie Dehmer is deadly accurate with her character choices in the role of Francesca.  She seems. . .not happy, but settled in her role as a farm wife.  She loves her children.  She loves her friends.  She even loves her husband, but it isn’t the same love that she once shared with him.  Her body language indicates that there is a void in her life that she doesn’t know how to fill.

Then Robert comes into her life.

Suddenly Ms Dehmer just lights up with passion and life as she now has someone with whom she can truly relate.  As their friendship grows, Ms Dehmer really makes you see the happiness blooming in her soul, yet it is still tinged with a thorn as she is always constantly aware of the potential effect on her family.  Her anguish as she wrestles with the decision to be with Robert or her family is heartbreakingly real and well essayed.

I think Ms Dehmer would have a fine career in opera with her devastating vocal range.  A natural alto who effortlessly hits soprano notes, Ms Dehmer shone musically as she wonders about Robert in “What Do You Call a Man Like That?”, consummates her relationship with him in “Falling Into You”, and sings about her haunting final decision in “Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles”.

Angela Jenson-Frey gives us a Francesca who is actually quite happy with her life.  Yes, she misses her native country, but is comfortable with her life in Iowa and is mostly satisfied with her choices in life.  When Robert appears in her life, there isn’t that immediate spark of attraction.  It is a friendship that quickly transforms into a passionate love.  Ms Jenson-Frey’s Francesca also seems a bit more assured in her decisions as her final choice seems to come a bit more easily and confidently.

Ms Jenson-Frey also has a beautiful soprano singing voice which she uses to full emotional potential in her numbers whether she’s gladly telling the audience part of her life story in “To Build a Home”, tenderly asking Robert to simply “Look At Me”, or sharing the rest of her life story with Robert in “Almost Real”.

I was crushed by James Verderamo’s take on Robert.  He projects a palpable aura of loneliness.  His Robert is a man who lives apart from the rest of the world.  He’s never in one place very long and has made the decision not to get involved with people because he always has to get to the next assignment.  His chemistry with Mackenzie Dehmer is pitch perfect as each truly seems to fill a missing part of the other.  When he falls for Francesca, you really feel the wonder of a man who is experiencing happiness for, perhaps, the first time in his life.

Verderamo’s tenor is velvet smooth and allowed him to emote his songs to the fullest.  Whether he is “Wondering” about Francesca or describing the life of a photographer in “The World Inside a Frame” or musing about his own mortality in “It All Fades Away”, Verderamo never failed to let the audience see his true thoughts and emotions.

Thomas Gjere’s Robert is far more content in his life.  While he is a bit of a wanderer, he is comfortable with the life he has chosen though he believes he isn’t the greatest company in the world.  What I liked best about this take is that Gjere’s Robert is quite likable and charming, but seems completely unaware of that fact due to his always focusing on the next assignment.  When he falls for Francesca, it seems to truly awaken himself to himself for the first time.

Gjere has a mellow low tenor that you could listen to for hours.  His phrasing is always perfectly precise and he makes you feel his budding happiness in “Temporarily Lost” and the full joy of his personal awakening in “Who We Are and Who We Want to Be”.

While this is primarily a two person show, a supporting cast does periodically appear to show what is going on outside Francesca & Robert’s world and sometimes get involved in it.  Kevin Olsen and Joey Hartshorn provide some levity as an older married couple who are neighbors of the Johnsons.  Ms Hartshorn is especially amusing as the busybody with a heart of gold and has a hilarious solo in “Get Closer”.  Mary Trecek belts out a great hoedown in “State Road 21/The Real World” and Analisa Peyton has a moving solo as Robert’s ex-wife in“Another Life” where she explains why she left him.

Jim Othuse crafts a realistic small town with the farmhouse of the Johnsons and a spot on replica of the Roseman Bridge.  I also liked how he created bars and other homes through the use of windows and bar counters.  Aja Jackson’s lights brilliantly support the story with sunrises, sunsets, and proper mood lighting during the show’s weightier and emotional moments.  Megan Kuehler’s costumes well suit a small town farming community with simple dresses for the adult women and t shirts and jeans for the men and kids.

As I said in the beginning, this is far more than a love story.  This is a story about two people who were missing something vital and found that missing piece in the other.  It is not about their love.  It is about what they will do with that love and it makes for a profound tale indeed.

The Bridges of Madison County continues through March 24.  Tickets start at $24 and vary by performance and seating zone.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets can be obtained at the OCP box office, online at www.omahaplayhouse.com, or calling the OCP box office at 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Blue Barn’s Next Show is a Little “Indecent”

BLUEBARN THEATRE presents

Tony Award-Winning Indecent by Paula Vogel

March 21st, 2019- April 14th, 2019

Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm

Sunday 3/31 & 4/14 at 2pm | 4/7 at 6:00pm

About the Play

Inspired by the true events surrounding the controversial 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeancea play seen by some as a seminal work of Jewish culture, and by others as an act of traitorous libel, INDECENT charts the history of an incendiary drama and the path of the artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it. Paula Vogel’s Tony award-winning masterpiece is a glorious celebration of the power of theatre to harness the very best of the human spirit.

About the Production

    Indecent features Sam Bertino, Leanne Hill Carlson, Ezra Colón, D. Scott Glasser, Jonathan Purcell, Judy Radcliff, Olga Smola, Jonathan Wilhoft, Kate Williams, and Suzanne Withem. Directed by Susan Clement, Assistant Directed by Barry Carman, with stage management by Taylor Jackson, choreography by Melanie Walters, music direction by Hal France and Olga Smola, scenic and lighting design by Steven Williams, costume design by Georgiann Regan, scenic painting by Craig Lee, sound design by Bill Kirby, and properties by Amy Reiner.

The production is generously sponsored by Vernie and Carter Jones,

 Fran and Rich Juro, Kim Jubenville and Devin Fox.

Tickets

General Admission ($35) and Senior ($30) tickets are available at bluebarn.org. Educator, Military, and BLUCrew tickets are available through the box office (402) 345-1576.

Engagement Events

The God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch  Mon, March 25th @7pm BLUEBARN | TBA @ JCC                                                                                             

Experience the Yiddish theatre classic that lies at the heart of Paula Vogel’s Indecent. In partnership with the JCC, we present a staged reading of Sholem Asch’s legendary play, The God of Vengeance. Directed by Roxanne Wach There will be two performances: March 25th at the BLUEBARN Theatre with a performance TBA at the JCC, 333 S. 132nd St

Why We Remember   Saturday, March 30th @ 5pm

Join us as we host Scott Littky, Executive Director of the Institute for Holocaust Education.

The Institute for Holocaust Education is committed to learning the lessons of the Holocaust and inspiring the community to create a more just and equitable society. Scott will speak to the IHE’s mission and the importance of ensuring that the history and tragedy of the holocaust are never forgotten.

A Shanda fur die Goyim (“a shame before the nations”) Sunday April 7th, Post-Show Forum

Following our 6pm performance, join Rabbi Steven Abraham (Beth El Synagogue) and Dr. Leonard Greenspoon (Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization at Creighton) in conversation about BLUEBARN’s production of Indecent.

Engagement events are free and open to the public

OCP Announces 95th Season

Omaha, NE–The Omaha Community Playhouse has announced the titles to be produced during their 95th season, which will run from August, 2019 through June, 2020. Subscriptions for OCP’s 2019/20 season are now available for purchase through the OCP Box Office at 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132 or by phone at (402) 553-0800.

BILLY MCGUIGAN’S ROCK TWIST*
Aug. 2 – 18, 2019
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Featuring Billy McGuigan | Music Director Steve Gomez | ©2007 by Rave On Productions
Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist is back! A high-energy concoction of rock ‘n’ roll mega hits with a big band twist, Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist is a live concert experience like no other. Featuring a stacked lineup of all-star musicians covering everything from The Doors to Frank Sinatra — all backed by a four-piece horn section — Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist is the electric marriage of music’s greatest generations.
Presenting Sponsor: Valmont Industries, Inc.
*Special Event—Not part of the regular season series

SWEAT
Aug. 16 – Sept. 15, 2019
Howard Drew Theatre
Written by Lynn Nottage
Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, Sweat is a head-first dive into working class America. A three-time Tony Award® nominee, Sweat follows a group of steelworkers whose steady march toward the American dream is uprooted by economic change. As their sense of security slowly unravels, jobs and relationships are left in the wake. Punctuated with lively humor, Sweat goes to the heart of what it means to be human — both good and bad — when fear and uncertainty take hold.

Disclaimer: Contains adult language and violence

ANNIE
Sept. 13 – Oct. 13, 2019
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Music by Charles Strouse | Lyrics by Martin Charnin | Book by Thomas Meehan
Everyone’s favorite red-headed orphan takes the stage at the Omaha Community Playhouse! Annie is the beloved tale of a young girl who never gives up hope of one day reuniting with her parents. After enlisting the help of Depression-era billionaire Oliver Warbucks, Annie finds herself in a tangled web of con artists, kidnappers and — worst of all — Miss Hannigan! With a little help from her orphan friends and her dog, Sandy, Annie ultimately finds a place where she belongs in this heartwarming classic. Featuring timeless songs like “Tomorrow” and “It’s The Hard-Knock Life,” Annie has been delighting audiences of all ages for decades.
Presenting Sponsor: Mutual of Omaha
Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW
Oct. 4 – Nov. 10, 2019
Howard Drew Theatre
Music, Lyrics and Book by Richard O’Brien
This fall, cult classic The Rocky Horror Show makes its long-awaited return — complete with fan-favorite midnight performances! After a flat tire renders them helpless in a storm, Brad and his fiancée, Janet, take refuge in the mansion of Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter, a dangerously eccentric cross-dressing scientist with an insatiable libido. As the night unfolds, a host of wild characters plunge in and out of rock songs and elaborate dances, stripping the couple of their innocence and leading them to question their traditional stance on sexuality. This gender-bending musical extravaganza is the most fun you can have in fishnets! Audience participation and costumes are encouraged!
Disclaimer: Contains sexual content and adult language.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL*
Nov. 15 – Dec. 23, 2019
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Written by Charles Dickens | Adapted by Charles Jones | Musical Orchestration by John J. Bennett
It just isn’t Christmas without A Christmas Carol! Experience Omaha’s favorite holiday tradition as Ebenezer Scrooge takes us on a life-changing journey to discover the true meaning of Christmas. Filled with stunning Victorian costumes, festive music and crisp, wintry sets, A Christmas Carol is a beautiful reminder of the power of redemption and
the generosity that lies at the heart of the Christmas holiday.
Presenting Sponsor: First National Bank
Orchestra Sponsor: KPMG
Media Sponsor: KETV
*Special Event—Not part of the regular season series.

YESTERDAY AND TODAY: THE INTERACTIVE BEATLES EXPERIENCE*
Nov. 22 – Dec. 31, 2019
Howard Drew Theatre
Featuring Billy McGuigan | Music Director Matthew McGuigan | ©2007 by Rave On Productions
Cap off 2019 with a shot of Beatlemania — courtesy of the brothers McGuigan! Yesterday and Today is the smash hit, all request Beatles show that the audience controls. Share your favorite stories and relive your fondest memories with the songs that defined a generation. With no two shows the same — and every show packed with fan favorites —
Yesterday and Today will have you dancing in the aisles and singing along to every song.
Presenting Sponsor: WoodmenLife
*Special Event—Not part of the regular season series.

A RAISIN IN THE SUN
Jan. 17 – Feb. 9, 2020
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Written by Lorraine Hansberry
Winner of five Tony Awards®, A Raisin in the Sun confronts life in South Side Chicago through the eyes of the Younger family. After years of battling poverty and racism, the Youngers hope an unexpected insurance check will be their ticket to a better life. With the looming fear that this may be their only chance, the family is torn apart as they struggle to agree on the most effective way to use the money.
Disclaimer: Contains language and themes related to racial tension.
Presenting Sponsor: Conagra Brands Foundation
Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

NATIVE GARDENS
Feb. 14 – March 15, 2020
Howard Drew Theatre
Written by Karen Zacarías
When Pablo and Tania purchase a new home in a well-to-do white neighborhood, the couple next door initially offer a friendly welcome. But when a laughable property line disagreement dissolves into an all-out turf war, the dirt begins to fly. Packed with witty quips — and plenty of back-and-forth mudslinging — Native Gardens is a sidesplitting reminder that, despite our differences, we all share a much larger common ground.

ONCE
Feb. 28 – March 22, 2020
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Book by Enda Walsh | Music and Lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová | Based on the Motion Picture Written and Directed by John Carney
Winner of eight Tony Awards® and based on the Oscar®-winning film, Once is the achingly beautiful tale of unexpected love between Guy, an Irish musician, and Girl, a Czech immigrant. The uplifting score — featuring the Academy Award®-winning single, “Falling Slowly,” — is performed entirely on stage, with the actors doubling as
orchestra musicians. Equal parts touching and inspiring, Once reminds us of music’s unique ability to forge deep, unspoken connections in our lives.
Disclaimer: Contains adult language.
Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

BRIGHT STAR
April 17 – May 10, 2020
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Written and Composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell
Nominated for five Tony Awards®, written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell and inspired by real events, Bright Star is a story of enduring hope woven through time and set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Young teenager Alice Murphy is devastated when her infant son is ripped away. But 20 years later, a young man enters her life and ushers in an unexpected glimmer of hope. With a Grammy®-nominated bluegrass score that will seep into your veins, Bright Star is as much a musical experience as it is a journey of the heart.
Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

FOR PETER PAN ON HER 70TH BIRTHDAY
May 1 – 31, 2020
Howard Drew Theatre
Written by Sarah Ruhl
For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday follows 70-year-old Ann and her four siblings as they face the loss of their father. As the siblings revisit their childhood and upbringing — including Ann’s adventures onstage as the star of Peter Pan — the audience gets a sentimental glimpse at what it truly means to grow up and a touching reminder that you’re never too old to fly.
Disclaimer: Contains mild adult language.

THE COLOR PURPLE
May 29 – June 28, 2020
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Based on the Novel by Alice Walker | Book by Marsha Norman | Music and Lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker and the Oscar®-nominated film by Steven Spielberg, The Color Purple is an intimate coming-of-age story set in rural Georgia and told through a rich helping of jazz, ragtime, gospel and blues. As Celie grows from a young teenager into a woman, she must overcome the cruelty and hardships that life has dealt to discover her inner strength through love, forgiveness and family. Driven by powerhouse vocal performances, The Color Purple is the ultimate tale of triumph over suffering and empowerment through adversity.
Disclaimer: Contains adult themes.
Presenting Sponsor: Kiewit Corporation
Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

Beware the Ides of Smarch, Days 7-9: Full Circle

DSC00968.JPG

Thursday, March 7

The Vegas trip had come to an end, but we still needed to hit up my favorite breakfast place on our way out.  That, of course, was the breakfast buffet at the Gold Coast casino.  It is still the best dollar for dollar value buffet in Vegas.  For about $10, you get a lot of wonderful breakfast foods and they were in especially fine form this day.  Their legendary French Toast was in fairly fine fettle and they also had some great chicken fried steak and an excellent corned beef hash as well.

Properly fueled we began the long drive back to Phoenix.  Dave and I once again waged battle in Super Mario Party where he managed to get the duke over me.

We got back into town about 4:30pm and just relaxed until Carolyn came home from work.  Then we went to dinner at Venezia’s Pizzeria which specializes in New York style slices of pizza.  I had never had a proper New York slice before and my Buffalo Chicken slice hit the spot.

When we got back to the house, Dave, Mat, and I took a little walk around the area to work off the meal before settling in to watch the latest episode of The Orville before turning in for the night.

Friday, March 8

This was definitely an easy day for us.  Mat had a doctor’s appointment so Dave and I were left to our devices for an hour or so.  Mat came back with doughnuts from The Hurts Donut Company which are still the greatest doughnuts on the planet and I very much look forward to the branch coming to Omaha.  I savored an Andes Mint doughnut while Mat introduced us to the web series, Cobra Kai, which continues the story of Daniel LaRusso and his rivalry with Johnny Lawrence from the movie The Karate Kid.

It’s actually a very entertaining and interesting series.  The focus is mostly on the character of Johnny Lawrence and it’s nice to see William Zabka get to show some depth with a character as his heyday as an actor in the 80s pretty much had him playing one dimensional bullies.

When we watched half the series, I suggested we go out and play some mini golf to get some exercise and enjoy the weather.

So we hopped into the car and made our way to Golfland Sunsplash were we once again dueled on the links.  In some ways, it was the most entertaining round of mini golf I’ve played as I shot video footage of some of our toughest holes.  In some ways it was the worst round as I shot pathetically average.  In one sign of the apocalypse, I finished last to Dave. . .again.  In another sign of the apocalypse, Dave won the ace award (most holes in one).  This left me in a fog where I muttered over and over, “Dave?  Ace Award?”

We returned to the house and did our own thing for an hour or so until Carolyn came back from work.  For dinner we went to Rubio’s which is famed for its fish tacos.  I had a Wild Alaskan salmon taco with a side of fresh greens and it really hit the spot.

From dinner, we went to the movies to watch Captain Marvel, the latest blockbuster from Marvel.  I found it to be a decent film buoyed by strong performances from Brie Larson as the title character and Ben Mendelsohn as a sympathetic war victim.  I gave it a 7 out of 10 and was especially impressed at how Marvel altered the traditional origin story formula.

But it was back to homestead and bed as we readied ourselves for the final day.

Saturday, March 9

This was it.  The last full day of fun with Mat and Carolyn.

Mat and Carolyn slept in.  I rose at my usual early hour and was surprised to find Dave up and about already as he watched the news on his phone.  I ate a banana and the last 2 pieces of bacon from the batch Mat had prepared the previous Sunday.  After eating, I decided I wanted to go for a long walk and persuaded Dave to join me.

Except for the little nighttime excursion taken a few nights prior, I had never really walked around this neighborhood as I was under the mistaken belief that the area was just a few lanes of houses buttressed up against a business area.

How wrong I was.

Once you cross the street, there are actually quite a large number of houses, schools, and neighborhoods to enjoy.  Dave and I ambled for about an hour before returning to the house.

As each member of our group held a victory in Super Mario Party, we decided to crown a winner.  We played an abbreviated version where Carolyn decimated us.  I mean it wasn’t even close.  But I did finish in second place.

Carolyn left for the afternoon to visit her brother while the three of us finished Cobra Kai and noshed on some sausage sandwiches Mat prepared.  The sausage was tasty, but I could have eaten a sandwich consisting solely of the delectable vegetable concoction prepared by Mat.

About 4pm we headed to Scottsdale where we would close the adventure as it started:  with an escape room.

DSC00969

We visited Escape Room 101 where our group was joined by Mat’s old friend, Rod, and his new girlfriend, Lisa.  In this room, we would be assuming the role of Baker Street detectives who were contacted by Oliver Byron, son of Lord Byron, the painter.  Oliver Byron had been approached by a cousin who held a will saying that he was the sole heir to Lord Byron’s fortune.  Oliver stated his father would never cut his children from the will and needed us to locate the real will before the reading of the fake.

The puzzles in this room were awesome and really required you to think.  The downside is that some of the devices activated by our solutions didn’t work as they should.  For example, Mat and I solved a symbols puzzles and nothing happened.  Mat unsolved and resolved it later which finally caused a hidden compartment to activate.

This one went down to the wire, but we managed to find the will with about 3 minutes remaining.  I would have combined the two rooms we had done as Blaine’s Basement had better presentation and pageantry while The Baker Street had better puzzles.

After another victory, we visited Carlos O’Brien’s for dinner which was a fusion of Mexican food and Irish pub fare.  I enjoyed a chicken and beef quesadilla while we conversed about various items.

Back at Mat and Carolyn’s we decided to have one final, all out battle at maximum turns on Super Mario Party.  It seemed as if Carolyn would crush us again, but we managed to start mounting a comeback.  However, my two “friends” decided to unfairly target me for purely their own amusement instead of focusing on the greater threat of Carolyn.  Dave stole a star while Mat stole my money to keep me from buying stars.  Due to their chicanery, Dave ended up winning and I vowed eternal warfare on both of them in all future games.

And so the end had finally come.  Having the old team back together added that x factor that made this trip quite a bit more fun.  Sadly, it will be a while before I see Mat and Carolyn again.  I may try a trip this summer or possibly even at Christmas as my family will be celebrating the holiday early.  Mat mentioned the possibility of road tripping to San Diego next time and that is a most intriguing idea indeed.

I see our first flight home has been delayed, so this trip really has come full circle.

Till the next adventure.

Beware the Ides of Smarch, Days 4-6: Vegas Time is Here Again

The destination for our little troupe:  Las Vegas.

Monday, March 4

I admit I was a little surprised by the announcement as Dave isn’t into gambling at all.  On the other hand, Dave had never really experienced Las Vegas aside from a brief overnight trip he took with Mat before the two of them headed off to Japan for the series I entitled “A Journey Beyond Imagination”.  With several days, Dave could get the full experience to appreciate the artistry and architecture of the casinos, take in a show, and possibly even join me for a few sites I had wanted to visit, but had not got around to doing.

Monday morning found us piling into Mat’s Nissan and heading off to Sin City after having a quick bite to eat at Jack in the Box.  Mat was recording our journey with time lapse photography with his Go Pro 4 camera while Dave and I killed the first hour or so of the drive playing a round of Super Mario Party.  I finally got the victory, but it wasn’t quite the same without getting to drive Mat into the dirt.

We arrived at the Linq about 3pm and had a pretty decent room on the 10th floor with a view of the pool.  Mat and Dave claimed the beds while I took the couch.  We puttered around for a couple of hours before heading to dinner over at the Bacchanal Buffet over at Caesar’s Palace.

Bacchanal Buffet is the biggest buffet in Vegas.  If you can think of it, they’ve got it.  We all enjoyed a good meal of whatever we felt like sampling before heading back to the Linq.  I lost $30 playing Dracula and Ghostbusters slot machines while Mat came out ahead on Casino Royale.  Then all 3 of us headed back up to the room for the night.

Tuesday, March 5

I rose early on Tuesday and did a little reconnaissance of the hotel while Mat and Dave slept until about 9am.

Today we were going for a hike.  So we got some breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s before getting some water at a convenience store to fill our camel packs.

Mat drove us out to Red Rock Canyon where we would be doing a loop through the La Madre mountains.  It was a perfect day for hiking as the temperature was moderate and the sky was slightly overcast.  We enjoyed quite a bit of God’s splendor as we gazed upon the mountains and found La Madre Falls and La Madre Spring.

We ended up hiking nearly 8.5 miles as Mat unintentionally led us on a more scenic route than intended.  But it was well worth it for a view of the falls and spring.  After our 3+ hours of hiking, we headed back to the Linq where we cleaned up and/or rested before heading to Hash House A Go Go for dinner.

For those of you not familiar with it, Hash House a Go Go is known for “Farm Food Done Freaky” and huge portions.  I was able to get a smaller meal of the HH Downsized Burger which was quite juicy and loaded with vegetables while Mat and Dave enjoyed wings and Mat indulged in a pork tenderloin sandwich and Dave supped on chicken and waffles.

We returned to our room where I caught a brief catnap while Mat and Dave watched some TV.  At 9:30pm, we headed across the street to Caesar’s Palace to watch Absinthe.

DSC00936

Absinthe at Caesar’s Palace

Absinthe is one of the most original shows I have seen in Vegas.  The theme of the show is that it’s an illegal, underground circus financed and produced by a man known only as the Gazillionaire.  The show is actually held in a tent with a bunch of mismatched chairs to suggest they were salvaged or stolen.

The show has a collection of impressive circus acts which change from show to show.  Our show consisted of a variety of acrobatics and trapeze artists with an intentionally bad ballet act thrown in.  For my money, the two best acts of the show were a group of jugglers called Water on Mars which did some phenomenal team juggling, sometimes from across the room and Shawn and John, an impressive pair of tap dancers that had the crowd roaring.

Acts are introduced by the Gazillionaire, who is a foul mouthed comic, and his assistant, Wanda Widdles, a sex obsessed woman with enough energy to light the Strip.  Largely due to the blue language utilized by these two, one must be 18 years old to attend the show.

After the show, we returned to our room and collapsed into bed.

Wednesday, March 6

I slept quite late today, at least for me, not awakening until 8:30am.

Today would be kind of an alone day for us.  Dave hadn’t seen Mat in over 2 years, so I made an appointment at the spa so they could spend a little time together.

For my regular readers, you know that I normally attend Qua Baths over at Caesar’s Palace.  For a change of pace, I visited The Spa at the Linq as I wanted to try a unique treatment.

The Spa at the Linq is a good spa.  It doesn’t have a lot of amenities as it only boasts a gym, jacuzzi, and steam room, but that’s enough to relax for a few hours.  For booking a treatment at least $50, I was also allowed to book a session in the Himalayan Salt Cave room for free.

The Salt Cave treatment is simply sitting in a room for 45 minutes while finely ground salt is sprayed inside.  The salt helps improve breathing and clears congestion from colds, asthma, allergens, and other toxins like secondhand smoke.  The salt also helps to detoxify the skin.  It was an interesting experiment and I do think I was breathing a bit more fully after the session.

From there, I went straight to my massage appointment with Theresa who released knots in my neck and shoulders and pepped up my tired feet which were a little sore from yesterday’s walking.

With my treatments completed, I returned to the room where Dave was watching TV and told me Mat was downstairs playing blackjack.  Mat had enjoyed a great run for the past six hours and was essentially playing at the casino’s expense.  When a new dealer showed up, the table left the game and Mat and I returned to the hotel room where we collected Dave and headed over to Planet Hollywood so Mat could pick up a gift card he had earned.

We wandered around the Miracle Mile Shops where Mat spent his card on a Bruce Lee T-shirt.  Then we made our way to Bally’s where I got whipped in a round of mini golf at Twilight Zone mini golf.  For losing, I won a free round of golf which never expires.

After my helping of humble pie, we went to the Flavors Buffet at Harrah’s for dinner and enjoyed another good meal before heading back to the room for the night.

Tomorrow it’s back to Phoenix.

Beware the Ides of Smarch, Day 3: Desert Delights

I awoke to an absolutely perfect day.  I used the treadmill in my room to run 3.5 miles before getting cleaned up for Mat to take me to church at Our Lady of Mt Carmel.

It was packed today due to visitors attending spring training for the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team.  Another truly uplifting service before Mat and Dave came back to collect me to return to Casa del O’Donnell y Langlois.

Mat prepared a homemade breakfast of taiyaki which is a Japanese fish shaped pancake stuffed with a sweet sauce (chocolate and vanilla custard in this case) and thick cut bacon which I used to make a sourdough bacon sandwich.

After breakfast (or brunch, depending on one’s point of view), the four of us played Tetris 99 which is a competition Tetris game where you play against 99 other online players to be the last person standing.  After a few rounds of this, we met on the battlefield of Super Mario Party once more.  Once again, I fell one star short as I lost to Carolyn, but at least having the satisfaction of topping Mat and making certain that Dave, as the accursed Yoshi, stayed in the basement of the rankings.

DSC00850

StarFighters Arcade

At 3pm, Carolyn left for a concert while Mat, Dave, and I went back in time to the 80s and visited StarFighters Arcade, a vintage arcade.

I’ve visited several vintage arcades, but this has to be the top of the heap, so far.  For starters, it has the lowest price for an all day pass at only $11.  It also has a very varied selection of classic games and pinball machines with some serious old school stuff in here.  It also feels like a traditional arcade with 80s music being piped in and the place is so noisy, you have to practically shout to be heard.  80s movies also play on a couple of screens in the arcade.

I got to play some games that I hadn’t played in years such as Haunted House, a three tiered pinball game and Baby Pac-Man, a hybrid video and pinball game with the catch being that there are no power pellets, but you can escape to the pinball section of the game.  I also played a surprisingly fun Popeye pinball machine, battled Mat around the world in Karate Champ where he edged me out in duels, bested Golden Axe with Dave as he’s the best partner who’s ever worked against me, and even played original Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace games.  I had a pretty good run on Dragon’s Lair and may have been able to best it if I had focused my entire time on it.

We left the arcade machine shortly before closing time and stopped at a traditional Chinese restaurant called Shaanxi Garden for dinner.

DSC00868

Shaanxi Garden

Shaanxi Garden is known for its homemade noodles and huge servings.  Each entree is truly family style, so I highly recommend sharing one entree among your group.  Mat ordered some cheese wontons as an appetizer and I enjoyed a few small servings of Stir Fry Pao Mo which is a braised, spicy lamb stew.

From the restaurant, we made our way to the Desert Botanical Garden to visit its Electric Desert light show.  This was also where Mat and Carolyn held their wedding reception and I was shocked to see just how small a space the venue had actually been.

It was a peaceful evening as we watched cacti light up like pinball machines, a mountain replicate the experience of a desert storm, and watched psychedelic colors dance over plants and rocks.

The night seemed over too soon before it was back to Mat’s and bed for tomorrow would be road tripping time.