- Madeline Whitehead
Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad
The life of any creative person is so full of challenges and disappointment that it's easy to imagine how the prospect of public accolades keeps you going: "Just wait until I win that big award." So it's interesting that author Colson Whitehead has a fairly pithy response to what it's like now to be introduced as "Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead" after his novel The Underground Railroad won that honor in 2017: "It's certainly better than 'Garbage Person Colson Whitehead,'" he says.
Self-deprecation notwithstanding, Whitehead crafted a fascinating story for his acclaimed 2016 novel. It follows Cora, a slave on a Georgia cotton plantation who learns from a man named Caesar about the escape network known as The Underground Railroad. But in Whitehead's alternate history, the terminology isn't just a figure of speech: A literal subway system carries runaway slaves to freedom in the north, and sets Cora on a dangerous adventure.
The Underground Railroad garnered plenty of high-profile support on its road to the Pulitzer, including a spot in Oprah Winfrey's revived book club, and a shout-out from then-President Obama in summer 2016. Yet despite all of the recognition for his latest novel—which Whitehead discusses in Salt Lake City this week, along with stories of his failures on his way to becoming a successful writer—he's proudest of something a reader said about one of his earlier novels. "A young woman came up to me and told me that Sag Harbor got her through chemotherapy," he says. "I'm sticking with that one." (Scott Renshaw)
Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad @ Main Library Auditorium, 210 E. 400 South, 801-524-8200, March 15, 7 p.m., slcpl.org
- Izzy Arrietta
Repertory Dance Theatre: Dabke
It isn't often that a local dance company produces a piece that was staged in the prior season. But according to Repertory Dance Theatre Artistic Director Linda Smith, the circumstances were right for a reprise of choreographer Zvi Gotheiner's Dabke—this time in the more intimate space of the Rose Wagner Black Box Theatre—just one year after its 2017 premiere.
"'Back by popular demand' is the best way to describe our motivation," Smith says. "We were overwhelmed with positive feedback, and questions about when we were going to perform the work again. This was a concert that our audience wanted to recommend to their friends. It was also a concert that they wanted to experience again."
The evening-length work was inspired by the Israeli-American Gotheiner's familiarity with the Arab folk dance form known generally as dabke from his time growing up in Israel. Commonly performed at occasions like weddings, dabke is a social dance in which those participating form a line that slowly progresses in a circle. Gotheiner's work takes that basic structure, and folds it into a piece incorporating Middle Eastern music and contemporary dance styles. Thematically, it touches on conflict within the region from which it originates, gender roles and connection to the land.
"I remember witnessing it as a child," Gotheiner says of dabke dance in a 2017 RDT video interview, "and being fascinated by the kind of ecstasy, and people oozing into one another. It's a togetherness that we don't have in our culture anymore." (SR)
Repertory Dance Theatre: Dabke @ Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. 300 South, 801-355-2787, March 16-17, 7:30 p.m.; March 18, 2 p.m., $15-$20, rdtutah.org
- Courtesy Pioneer Theatre Co.
Pioneer Theatre Co.: In the Heights – Concert Version
If you aren't one of the lucky few to score tickets to Lin-Manuel Miranda'sHamilton, you still have a chance to see his other great all-American story. In a two-night concert run at the Pioneer Theatre Co., musical-lovers can experienceIn the Heights, which tells the interconnecting stories of 12 neighbors living in a tight-knit community in Washington Heights, Manhattan. The bonds formed over decades are tested after neighborhood matriarch Abuela Claudia wins the lottery, and neighbors contemplate moving away.
Diego Klock-Perez, who plays the character Usnavi de la Vega, has performed in previous productions ofIn the Heights,and has been familiar with the story since he was in high school.He says the play means a lot to him, not only because it bridged his love of rap and theater, but also because it offers a chance for a young Latino man to play the lead. "It's really freeing and liberating to express myself in this musical-, hip-hop-style-, R&B-, salsa-, Spanish-culture that is represented," Klock-Perez says. "I was almost losing my Latino identity by submerging myself in the musical theater world."
All songs will be performed on stage, and the actors will have scripts in hand. Without the physicality of a full-blown production, viewers have a chance to really focus on the sounds and lyrics of the play. "This play is meant to be shared with your family, and people are supposed to bring those that are close to them to come see this show," Klock-Perez says. (Kylee Ehmann)
In the Heights – Concert Version @ Pioneer Theatre Co.,300 S. 1400 East,801-581-6961,March 16, 7:30 p.m.;March 17, 2 & 7:30 p.m., $40, pioneertheatre.org
- Greg Hernandez
Wanda Sykes is one sassy individual. Unafraid to speak her mind, she's been an advocate for LGBTQ issues, a spokesperson for PETA's anti-cruelty campaign and a wry pontificator about political issues and today's racial divide. She's also outrageously funny, a fact that became obvious to most Americans when she served as an award-winning writer on The Chris Rock Show and subsequently starred in the CBS series The New Adventures of Old Christine, Curb Your Enthusiasm and, more recently, ABC's Black-ish. Her film career is illustrious as well, thanks to roles in Monster-In-Law, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Evan Almighty and various animated voiceovers.
Yet, with all her awards and accolades—she's been nominated for seven Emmys, garnered an American Comedy Award, a Comedy Central Award, recognition by GLAAD foe Activism in the Arts and kudos from Entertainment Weekly as one of the 25 funniest people in America—she remains fearless in her commitment to call things as she sees them. When she was chosen as the first African-American openly gay entertainer to host the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2009, she couldn't resist the opportunity to strike back at radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh. Referring to Limbaugh's previously stated desire to see newly elected President Barak Obama's agenda fail, she replied succinctly: "I hope his kidneys fail, how 'bout that? Needs a little waterboarding, that's what he needs."
Given that pronouncement, we're psyched to hear what Sykes has to say about our current political calamities. (Lee Zimmerman)
Wanda Sykes @ Wiseguys SLC, 194 S. 400 West, 801-532-5233, March 16-17, 7 & 9:30 p.m.; March 18, 6 & 8:30 p.m., wiseguyscomedy.com