Essentials: A&E Picks Nov. 14-20 | Entertainment Picks | Salt Lake City Weekly

Essentials: A&E Picks Nov. 14-20 

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Utah Opera: Fatal Song
When the courtesan Violetta first takes the stage in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, she is obviously in ill health. She continues to sicken throughout the love-tangled story until, at the end, she succumbs to her illness in the arms of her lover. Copy and paste this story onto Puccini’s La Bohème, but change the woman’s name to Mimi, her lover’s to Rodolfo and have her final collapse take place in a damp artist’s flat in Paris. And again, for Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, only change the woman’s name to Lucia and have her die a madwoman and a murderer.

Notice any common themes? Salt Lake Acting Company’s resident playwright Kathleen Cahill did, and she’s written a new piece of theater about it called Fatal Song—presented by Utah Opera—which will be performed cabaret-style (with an option for dinner) this weekend.

Cahill’s passion for the opera led her to graduate school, where she studied the art and craft of writing operatic librettos. After graduating, Cahill was commissioned to write a libretto for a conference about opera’s famous heroines. Cahill recalls emerging from her studies “annoyed with the librettists who kept killing off the heroines” and ready to write a satirical, witty and light-hearted alternative.

Fatal Song will feature sopranos Jennifer Welch-Babidge and Celena Shafer as they sing some of opera’s most famous melodies and bring to life Violetta, Mimi, Lucia and other ill-fated females, with the chance to finally figure out who (or what) is killing off all the women. (Katherine Pioli)
Rose Wager Theater, 138 W. 300 South, 801-355-2787, Nov 14-16, 7:30 p.m.; Nov 17, 4 p.m., $35-$50, $20 for dinner.

Salt Lake Acting Company: Good People
Good People—Salt Lake Acting Company’s production of the latest effort by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire—is simply the best show I’ve seen on a Salt Lake City stage in years. It nimbly navigates issues of class and identity in contemporary America with believable characters instead of stick-figure archetypes. 

Margaret (Nell Gwynn) is a coarse-mouthed, big-hearted, not-quite-middle-age woman from South Boston who has never caught a break. Mike (Robert Scott Smith) is Margaret’s ex from high school. He’s the one who got away; he got so far away that he is now a medical doctor by way of an Ivy League education. He doesn’t get back to the old neighborhood these days. 

Those hasty sketches are ripe for stereotype abuse. A lesser writer than Lindsay-Abaire would likely saddle Margaret with lazy trappings and mold her as either a paragon of working-class virtue or a cautionary example of cyclical poverty. Mike could easily be alternately vilified as a stuck-up class traitor or celebrated as evidence of the persistent existence of the American Dream. 

Good People isn’t that simple. The script instead draws Margaret, Mike and the entire cast of characters as complicated, well-rounded people possessing merits and failings in proper proportions. Much credit is due to the entire cast and the subtle direction from Robin Wilks-Dunn for bringing the script to spectacular life. Nuanced performances and intelligent choices are the rule. 

Good People is what theater should be. There are no gimmicks or shortcuts—just strong, relevant storytelling performed well. (Rob Tennant)

Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, 801-363-7522, Oct. 30-Nov. 24, $18-$38.

Jared Diamond: The World Until Yesterday

Our modern condition is one where we’re awash in unprecedented technology: computers, air travel, mass global communication. We take these developments for granted, ignoring the fact that for 99.9 percent of human history, we survived without them. That means, historically, the cultures and societies that shaped us have little to do with the trappings of our modern lives.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond tackles that notion in his newest book, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? His premise is simply that by studying our past societies and historical developments, we can identify any number of disconnects between our past and present to ultimately learn a better way of shaping a positive future.

While looking into the past for answers to modern problems can result in romanticizing, Diamond understands all too well the savagery that often accompanied human development throughout the ages; his books Guns, Germs & Steel and Collapse chronicle such occurrences. But he also knows that traditional societies can teach us lessons easily applicable to the modern world: traditional childrearing techniques, inclusion of our elders, danger assessment, and general health and societal well-being.

For example: Modern anonymity means a chance for inpiduality, but anonymity often comes at the cost of lifelong social relationships. The majority of your interactions are with strangers, as opposed to smaller-scale societies, where everyone is busy cultivating lifelong relationships. Loneliness is simply not a problem in traditional societies, yet is a chronic plague of modernity. (Jacob Stringer)
Salt Lake City Main Library Auditorium, 210 E. 400 South, 801-524-8200, Nov. 14, 7 p.m., free.

Bill Bellamy
We all might dream of someday leaving our mark upon the world, whether it’s making a miraculous scientific discovery or writing a great novel. Or maybe you add a new terminology to the American lexicon—like Bill Bellamy is credited for, during an early-career appearance on Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam, describing a late-night communiqué for the express purpose of sexual congress as a “booty call.”

Of course, there’s been plenty more to Bellamy’s 20-plus-year career as a stand-up comedian, actor and host of various MTV shows. Most recently, he starred in the syndicated sit-com Mr. Box Office as a movie star sentenced to community-service teaching in a South Central Los Angeles high school. But he’s also still on the touring circuit, headlining the current Ladies Night Out tour with comedians Ali Siddiq, Jay Reid and D’Lai, recently captured for a Showtime special. Now you can see the racy fun live—and you don’t even have to wait for a booty call. (Scott Renshaw)
Wiseguys West Valley, 2194 W. 3500 South, West Valley City, 801-463-2909, Nov. 14, 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 15-16, 7:30 & 10 p.m., $20.

Silver Summit Theatre: 33 Variations
In 1819, Austrian composer Anton Diabelli sent a new waltz he had created to several of his most illustrious contemporaries, requesting that they write variations on his themes as part of a benefit for widows and orphans of the Napoleonic Wars. Anecdotal stories suggest that Ludwig van Beethoven initially wanted no part of the project at all, considering Diabelli’s piece unworthy of his time. But eventually, he spent part of the next four years composing not one variation on Diabelli’s waltz, but 33 of them.

Playwright Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project) took that footnote in musical history and turned it into 33 Variations, a drama about a music historian named Katherine Brandt (Anne Cullimore Decker) determined to dig into the story of why Beethoven devoted so much time to this project in his waning years. Meanwhile, her own waning years present her with challenges to her health and to her relationship with her daughter. (Scott Renshaw)
The Leonardo, 209 E. 500 South, 801-541-7376, Nov. 14-16 @ 7:30 p.m. & Nov. 17 @ 2 p.m., $22-$25.


Alice Gallery: There Must Be Black
A limited range of color might seem to create limited options for artists, circumscribing or placing limits on their creative capabilities. There Must Be Black reminds us of the necessity of the color black, sometimes considered the very absence of color, the invisible made visible, the area where objects fall into shadow.

The exhibit combines drawings and mixed-media works by Catherine Downing, Nancy Steele-Makasci and Tawni Shuler. Black functions metaphorically in many of their works, and as a kind of visual silence, it provides an avenue to meditation. The range in these works, from darkest shades that seem to admit no light at all, to dusky, dusty grays, shows that the color black can make a variety of impressions. (Brian Staker)
Alice Gallery, Glendinning Mansion, 617 E. South Temple, 801-245-7272, Nov. 15-Jan. 3, Gallery Stroll opening reception Friday, Nov. 15, 6-9 p.m., free. 

Urban Arts Gallery: Lost Lucid Dream
This month’s exhibit at Urban Arts Gallery in The Gateway showcases four local artists: Caitlin Hawker, Steven Larson, Josh Tai Taeoalii and Sri Whipple. Larson’s artistic style inspired the title of the show; curator Cat Palmer says Larson’s paintings remind her of her dreams. His watercolors combine a fluid impressionism with the precision of architectural drawings to create scenes that could easily have emerged from the subconscious.

The show introduces the work of Caitlin Hawker, who won the gallery’s skate-deck art competition earlier this year. Taeoalii’s works are inspired by street art, and often feature pop-culture figures like Hunter S. Thompson or Andy Warhol. Whipple’s paintings are dreamlike in their own way: writhing figures that sometimes appear like disembodied appendages, energetic shapes in motion with their own fluidity. Nov. 16 and 17 will feature a holiday bazaar at the gallery. (Brian Staker)
Urban Arts Gallery, 137 S. Rio Grande St., 801-510-0827, Nov. 15-Dec. 5, Tuesday-Saturday 12-8 p.m., Sunday 12-6 p.m., free.

So You Think You Can Dance Tour 2013
As reality-competition shows surged through the past decade, plenty of them seemed like fads destined for a quick fade. I mean, sure, American audiences would watch singers and bands perform, but how long would they remain interested in a competition that just involved dancing?

An impressive 10 seasons later, So You Think You Can Dance is still going strong on Fox, and the top finalists are still touring the country for packed arenas. The lineup is scheduled to include Season 10 winners Amy Yakima and Du-Shaunt “Fik-Shun” Stegall, the first pair of winners in the show’s history who were partners from the beginning. Other participants include Aaron Turner, Hayley Erbert, Jasmine Harper, Jenna Johnson, Makenzie Dustman, Nico Greetham, Paul Karmiryan and Tucker Knox. They may no longer be dancing for your votes, but they know they can dance. (Scott Renshaw)
The Maverik Center, 3200 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City, 801-988-8800, Friday, Nov. 15, 8 p.m., $37-$57.


Dance Theatre Coalition: Fall Field Showing
Most artwork—painting, writing, sculpting—is created in isolation, alone in a room without regular feedback to help generate direction or creative ideas. That is where artistic workshops come into play.

Dance Theatre Coalition’s version of the workshop is called The Field, originally founded in 1985 in New York City as a performance space that developed into a service organization for artists. The eight-week series of Fieldwork classes is guided by a trained facilitator who creates a space for other artistically minded eyes to provide positive feedback for in-process work. The culmination of the workshops is the Field Showing, designed to be an open-studio-type atmosphere in which artists get to show to the public what they’ve been working on.

“Many artists enjoy the opportunity to test-drive their works in front of a small audience,” says Dance Theatre Coalition’s Amy Caron. “Low-pressure opportunities to present works-in-progress are hard to come by for artists, and yet, these opportunities are quite valuable to the gestation of artworks.” One important aspect to the Fieldwork process is interdisciplinary interaction between artists.

According to Caron, it’s critical to artistic growth, and ultimately helps curb that sense of working in isolation. “Artists need to source each other to produce and present work and advance their careers,” she says. “Fluency between artistic mediums is helpful for building a strong art community, and it’s great for inspiration. … It’s tragic when artists become lodged in one discipline. When painters, musicians, actors and sculptors are all in active conversation with each other, outstanding things come into being.” (Jacob Stringer)
Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. 300 South, Nov. 18, 7 p.m., free.

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