Essentials: Entertainment Picks Feb. 19-25 

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Plan-B Theatre Company: Mama
Plan-B Theatre says its production of Mama has the distinction of being the first world premiere by an African-American playwright in Utah history. It also has the further distinction of being an excellent play. It's shocking that this is Carleton Bluford's first full-length play, as it displays a structural dexterity and textual intricacy rare in veteran playwrights; for a first time out, Mama is a resounding success. Bluford seamlessly weaves monologues, found text and vignettes about the nature of motherhood under a variety of circumstances and its intersection in various ways with blackness. The deceptively loose structure is tied together mainly by the meta-theatrical device of Bluford reaching out to Facebook for stories about mothers (aided by projections). Director Jerry Rapier stages it in such a way as to put the focus squarely on the text with crisp, precise blocking and almost no set—other than chairs—with the actors costumed in neutral (but textually appropriate) black. This confidence in the material pays off, and the ensemble is well up to the task of flowing from one character to the next. Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin, William Cooper Howell, Latoya Rhodes and Elizabeth Summerhays all do terrific jobs with the text, embodying a variety of markedly different characters, and each shifting deftly between sympathetic and not-so-sympathetic characterizations without missing a beat. Their work is, in short, everything ensemble theatrical acting should be. Mama is a wonderful debut for Bluford (a talent to watch), and a thoroughly satisfying production that should not be missed. (Danny Bowes) Plan-B Theatre Company: Mama @ Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. 300 South, 801-355-2787, through Feb. 22, Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m. & Sunday 2 p.m., $20.



A Measure of Salt
The Great Salt Lake is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere. As the state's central geographical feature, as well as this city's namesake, it feels omnipresent yet not immediately present—slightly removed, unless you make the trek to see it. But, this tension has influenced those who live around it in numerous ways, and the exhibition A Measure of Salt at the Granary Art Center in Ephraim (former home of CUAC) assembles 20 artists from Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and New York City who have created works on that theme. The salt itself is a vital substance, both chemically and symbolically—a transformative and emotionally potent subject for works in photography, video, printmaking, craft, mixed media, installation and performance. Participating artists include Kimberly Anderson, Christine Baczek, David Baddley, Phyllis Baldino, Shonti Breisch, Sandy Brunvand, Virginia Catherall, The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Erin Coleman Cruz, Stefanie Dykes, Matt Kruback, Colour Maisch, Frank McEntire, Amanda Moore, Alan Nakagawa, Chauncey Secrist, Holly Simonsen, Brian Snapp, Diane Tuft and Ashley Wilson. Works ranging from Baczek's ethereal, experimental photographic prints (pictured) and Frank McEntire's mixed-media works that touch on spiritual elements to The Center for Land Use Interpretation's documentation of the uses to which we have put the land provide widely divergent ways to look at the Great Salt Lake anew. Showing concurrently at the Granary is the exhibition #Blessed: User-Generated Content and Indexing Spirituality, based on the Instagram hashtag #BlessedGAC. (Brian Staker) A Measure of Salt: Contemporary Artists Engaging Great Salt Lake @ Granary Art Center, 86 N. Main, Ephraim, through May 23, Wednesday-Friday 3-6 p.m. & Saturday 12-3 p.m.


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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Have you ever judged a person by their books? Main character A.J. Fikry, in Gabrielle Zevin's best-selling novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, has a fine way of doing so. Readers who have fallen in love with the flailing Fikry—for more than just his books—can meet the gifted author of the charmingly witty, bookish love story, this week. >On Feb. 24, The King's English is turning into Island Books—Fikry's singular local bookstore—for a fun day and night of food and drinks, reading and book signing by Zevin. The King's English anticipates "the largest book club ever" for the event where customers will have a chance to meet the talented author. Zevin's career started at the age of 14 as a music critic for a local magazine after she sent it a heated letter concerning a Guns 'n' Roses concert. Not many writers can boast having eight published novels under their belts at the age of 37, with an English & American Literature degree from Harvard, to boot. All accolades are well-earned, as her writing—starting with the award-winning first novel Elsewhere—is fresh and funny, and delightful in its color and originality. The Storied Life can cheer up anyone in as dreary a funk as Mr. Fikry, and it may quite possibly send readers through vicarious transformations of their own. For anyone walking the tightrope of recovery from tragedy, experiencing a midlife crisis or embarking upon some other kind of fresh start in life: This book is for you. (Deann Armes) Gabrielle Zevin: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry @ The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, 801-484-9100, Feb. 24, reading 7 p.m., free,



National Gallery
It's tempting to look at legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman's three-hour exploration of London's National Gallery in elegiac terms—an 80-plus-year-old filmmaker exploring an institution dedicated to preserving and teaching people about art, continuing vital conversations about centuries-old works and granting their creators a kind of immortality. And, I suppose, it's even quite effective on that level. But the scope here is utterly transfixing, moving from the gallery spaces themselves and the gaze of laypeople to the educational efforts of docents and scholars and to the behind-the-scenes work on budgets or how to light an installation. As a result, National Gallery somehow manages to be one of the most extraordinary cinematic portrayals ever about the full range of art within the human experience: as a commodity; as a transcendent view of genius; as something that requires nuts & bolts architecture to function properly; as craft passed from one generation to the next. It's about the act of creation and the subsequent act of critical engagement. It addresses what you want to know about a work and how that desire can collide with what you can never know. It conveys how many people whose names we will never know or remember play a crucial role in allowing miraculous art to appear before us. Wiseman paints on a breathtakingly large canvas and manages to give us three hours where, if you wanted the most concise way possible to answer the question, "What is art?", you'd show them this movie. (Scott Renshaw) National Gallery @ Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah, 410 Campus Center Drive, 801-581-7332, Feb. 25, 7 p.m., free.

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