Essentials: Entertainment Picks Feb. 18-24 

Streetlight Woodpecker, Regalia, The Suzan-Lori Parks Show and more

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THURSDAY 2.18
Good Company Theatre: Thrill Me

Musicals with major criminal elements—Chicago, Sweeney Todd or The Phantom of the Opera—are incredibly popular while featuring huge casts, large production numbers and catchy songs. Perhaps that's why Good Company Theatre's production of Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story is so unexpected. It relies on a two-person cast and small set to bring to the stage the true-life tale of wealthy lovers-turned-murderers. If only Stephen Dolginoff—who wrote the book, music and lyrics—had managed to write at least one memorable song, this musical would be even more satisfying.

Told through flashbacks from Nathan Leopold's (Nick Morris) 1958 parole hearing, he reveals more about why he and Richard Loeb (Berlin Schlegel) committed a heinous murder in 1924. Richard, a Nietzsche-obsessed egomaniac, convinces Nathan to start committing petty crimes again. In return, Nathan wants Richard to fulfill his sexual desires. When their misdemeanors no longer thrill Richard, he wants to execute the "perfect crime": killing a young boy. No one will ever suspect them—or so they believe.

Under the musical direction of Nicholas Maughan, Morris and Schlegel take Dolginoff's songs and perform them exceptionally. Director Derek Williamson uses every inch of Good Company Theatre's limited stage space, though for those sitting farther back it's difficult to see all the action. Since Thrill Me is performed in one act, the story feels abbreviated. With no song commanding the show, Morris and Schlegel provide the energy themselves. And that is certainly worth watching. (Missy Bird)
Good Company Theatre: Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story @ 260 E. 25th St., second floor, Ogden, through Feb. 28, Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m.; $17. GoodCoTheatre.com

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THURSDAY 2.18
Salt Lake Acting Co.: Streetlight Woodpecker

It's not always easy for a theatrical production to evoke a sense of deep history, but the accumulation of years is part of Salt Lake Acting Co.'s production of Shawn Fisher's Streetlight Woodpecker from the moment audience members step into the theater space. Dennis Hassan's remarkable set—a run-down backyard in a Philadelphia neighborhood—bursts with the kind of details that make this a fully lived-in world: a tattered net hanging from a basketball hoop, a garage door stuck at an odd angle.

That easy familiarity is crucial to this story of two childhood friends reunited under difficult circumstances. Benji (Stefan Espinosa, above right, with Matthew Sincell) is a wounded Marine veteran who had been staying with his father until his father's recent death; Sam (Carleton Bluford) is that childhood friend, offering a temporary place in the home he inherited from his mother. Their relationship is complicated, however, not just by Benji's disability but by his volatile emotions, which may be hiding more than the traumatic story behind his injuries.

Fisher crafts dialogue and a story that pulses with its origins in a conservative working-class neighborhood, facilitating tremendous performances by the entire cast (Olivia Custodio is a knockout as Benji's sister). The second act occasionally gets strident as it reaches for its big revelations, but those moments are rare in a text—efficiently directed by Richie Call—that favors the things that so often remain unspoken, even between people who care about one another. Streetlight Woodpecker lives in that space built on years of connection, with people as familiar as your own backyard. (Scott Renshaw)
Streetlight Woodpecker @ Salt Lake Acting Co., 168 W. 500 North, 801-363-7522, through March 6, Tuesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. & 6 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 27 & March 5, 2 p.m.; $15-$42. SaltLakeActingCompany.org

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SATURDAY 2.20
Repertory Dance Theatre: Regalia

Cramming for finals was known by a sweeter term back in 19th-century France. When teams of architecture students at Paris' École des Beaux-Arts raced to meet term deadlines, they were working en charrette, making hurried final touches on their work before placing it on a cart (charrette) as it was wheeled through the studio. Since then, charrette has been used to describe any period of intense creative effort over a brief, fixed time—and, for 11 years, Repertory Dance Theatre's annual Charette fundraiser has offered audience members an entertaining evening of intense dance creation.

Regalia, the company's 50th anniversary gala, will be a particularly special charette featuring four alumni choreographers tasked with creating a new and complete work in just four hours. This year's lineup includes Francisco Gella, whose Shubert Impromptu had its world premiere with RDT in April 2015; David Marchant, a professor of dance at Washington University in St. Louis and co-artistic director of ZO Motion Arts; Marina Harris, co-director of Canada-based company X Puppets Theater, and who, in 2013, restaged her work Green Jello with RDT dancers; Andy Noble, co-artistic director of Houston-based NobleMotion Dance and assistant professor of dance at Sam Houston State University.

Prior to the performance, patrons can wander the studios to watch the four choreographers as they put final touches on their work. Once on stage, it will be up to the audience to decide (with their money) who deserves "Best of Show" and a chance to choreograph for RDT's 51st season. (Katherine Pioli)
Repertory Dance Theatre: Regalia @ Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. 300 South, 801-355-2787, Feb. 20, 5:30 p.m., cocktail party and dinner; 7:30 p.m. performance; $150 gala (includes dinner and cocktails), $50 performance. ArtTix.org

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WEDNESDAY 2.24
Mona Awad: 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

The title evokes Wallace Stevens' 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, and perhaps that's fitting—because there's a unique sort of poetry in Mona Awad's sad, insightful, often darkly funny tale of one young woman struggling to be comfortable in her own skin.

A book of fiction with the buzzy realism of a memoir, 13 Ways tells the story of Elizabeth across the span of 13 individual stories and approximately that many years. We meet her first as an overweight teenager, hanging out with her bad-girl best friend and trying to understand who might find her attractive. But over time, as she moves from men she just settles for to one who might actually love her, she also begins trying to lose weight. And the result changes more than the clothes she can fit into.

Awad's fascinating structural choices make for something that's more complicated than a story of a "fat girl" who became thin. Folding in stories told from other points of view, including that of her husband, she uses the snapshots in time to dig into how body image frames Elizabeth's interactions with friends, men, co-workers and her mother. It's a story about someone who keeps trying on different identities, like different variations on her name from Lizzie to Liz to Beth. The result is a subtly heartbreaking story of how easy it is to become a slave to the person you think you're supposed to be, and how after losing weight, in the words of Elizabeth's friend, "maybe it's all around us ... our old fat." (SR)
Mona Awad: 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl @ The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, 801-484-9100, Feb. 24, 7 p.m. KingsEnglish.com

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WEDNESDAY 2.24
The Suzan-Lori Parks Show

In 2002, Suzan-Lori Parks became the first African-American woman ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama for her play Topdog/Underdog. It's the tale of two brothers—aspiring Three Card Monte hustler Booth, and his older brother Lincoln, who works at a carnival dressed as his presidential namesake, in whiteface, allowing customers to pretend to shoot him in the head. That fascinating setup is just the tip of the creative iceberg for an artist who has also been awarded a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant," and was once again a Pulitzer (and Tony Award) nominee in 2015 for Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 and 3).

But this week's Tanner Humanities Center lecture finds Parks showing off even more of her versatility. Her presentation The Suzan-Lori Parks Show includes music performance, reading of her work and—as she puts it—"consciousness raising of the collective unconscious." Join the fun this week for an event that's free to the public while tickets last. (Scott Renshaw)
The Suzan-Lori Parks Show @ Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle, University of Utah, 801-581-7100, Feb. 24, 6 p.m., free, Tickets.Utah.edu

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