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Theater review: Pioneer Theatre Company’s “Deathtrap”

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Playwright Ira Levin’s Deathtrap has a bit of everything. Humor. Action. A mystery that genuinely leaves the audience guessing more than once along the way of its two acts.

In the hands of Pioneer Theatre Company and director May Adrales, it also has the benefit of a production that holds up its end of the bargain with the thriller’s witty script. Taking full advantage of Pioneer’s sprawling stage to create the study of writer Sidney Bruhl’s Connecticut home, the story unfolds with a winning combination of lighting effects and music, an array of murderous props and characters who are engaging from beginning to end.

I’ll avoid all spoilers here, but the essential set-up of the plot is this: Sidney Bruhl (Thom Sesma) and Myra Bruhl (Gayton Scott) are living in the Connecticut house as Sidney struggles to recapture his past success as a playwright best known for penning thrillers. Out of the blue, a young writer named Clifford Anderson (Devin Norik), who once took a seminar from Sidney, has sent the elder playwright a script for a thriller so good that the Bruhls start to joke about murdering the young man and taking credit for his work.

Or were they joking?

That’s one of the big questions lurking as Anderson comes to visit the Connecticut home, ostensibly to workshop his script with his mentor. Watching things unfold from there is a lot of fun–it’s easy to understand why Levin’s play was a critical and commercial hit in the early ’80s, running on Broadway for four years and being adapted into a 1982 feature film.

Pioneer’s Deathtrap moves along at a pleasingly rapid clip, and it works on a lot of levels–that’s as true now as it was more than 30 years ago.

As a commentary on the desperation of struggling artists, it’s pretty hilarious. As a example of the kind of thriller Anderson and Bruhl are intent on creating, it’s full of startling revelations and winning plot twists. And as simply a fine night of entertainment at the theater.

Pioneer Theatre Company’s Deathtrap runs through April 12. Visit the Pioneer website for showtimes, tickets and more information. Photo courtesy of Pioneer Theatre Company.

Norvik (left), Gayton Scott as Myra Bruhl, and Sesma. Photo by Alex Weisman.

Devin Norvik (left) as Clifford, Gayton Scott as Myra Bruhl, and Thom Sesma as Sidney Bruhl. Photos by Alex Weisman.

SLCene Suggests: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at The Urban Lounge

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STEPHEN MALKMUS AND THE JICKS, THE URBAN LOUNGE, Thursday, April 3, 9 p.m., $25 at the door

To those of us of a certain ilk, Stephen Malkmus has a lifetime pass as indie-rock royalty. The esteem in which he’s held by Pavement lovers is such that his post-Pavement career has been overlooked and underappreciated in many ways. I’m part of that problem myself–I always make a point of listening to anything Malkmus puts out, but I still spin to my Pavement albums WAY more than I listen to Malkmus’s later work, as much as I dig his self-titled 2001 set, and 2008′s Real Emotional Trash. His latest release with backing band The Jicks, Wig Out at Jagbags, is yet another collection of tasty guitar jams and engaging (and often funny) lyrics, and you can expect to hear a heavy dose of the album Thursday at The Urban Lounge. And while you might not necessarily be listening to Jagbags 10 years from now as you do Slanted and Enchanted or Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, you should still take the time to see Malkmus throw down songs old and new when he comes to town. Speedy Ortiz opens the show.

 

Concert review: St. Vincent at The Depot

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Wow.

That’s the first word that comes to mind after witnessing St. Vincent’s headlining show at The Depot Friday night.

Just. Wow.

The sonic experimentation marking the evolution from her older music toward the sounds filling her excellent new self-titled set, as well as her Love This Giant collaboration with David Byrne a couple years back, indicated that her current “Digital Witness Tour” would be an altogether different live experience.

It certainly is that, and then some. As much theater or performance art as rock show, on Friday Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) combined choreography designed by Annie-b Parson (who worked with her and Byrne on their tour) with her stunning voice-and-guitar stylings into a cohesive, visually stunning show that risked being off-putting, but easily avoided that fate through how damn entertaining the whole thing was.

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Backed by a sparse three-piece band that included synth player/guitarist Toko Yasuda, keyboardist Daniel Minsteris and drummer Matt Johnson, St. Vincent entered the relatively bare stage in a sort of robotic trance, launching into the throbbing opener on St. Vincent, “Rattlesnake.”

Roughly two-thirds through that song, a guitar seemingly appearing out of nowhere led to the first of several stunning solos that allowed the audience to remember that underneath the carefully cultivated performance, a living, breathing rock star exists. Clark is a  passionate player, and those moments were the easiest points for the audience to connect with the artist on stage.

Elsewhere, it was easy to simply get sucked into the spectacle as Clark rolled across a small pyramid-type structure on stage, or danced with Yasuda.

The show included most of St. Vincent‘s songs, as well as some older cuts like “Cheerleader,” “Northern Lights” and the title track from Strange Mercy. Throughout, the music was on point, never getting swallowed by the spectacle. Clark is an artist who knows how to pull a show together, and it’s hard to imagine she’ll ever deliver a boring gig in her life.

Friday night’s show convinced me that I’ll never miss one if I can help it.

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Theater review: Plan-B Theatre Company’s “3″

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As the final production in Plan-B Theatre Company’s “season of Eric,” dedicated to several works by playwright Eric Samuelsen, 3 comes with heightened expectations after the overwhelmingly winning previous shows–Nothing Personal, Radio Hour: Fairyana, and Clearing Bombs.

Taken as a whole, the works have showcased an obviously skilled playwright, one capable of penning works that delve into history and modern life, comedy and drama, with equal effectiveness.

3 might be the most personal of the lot for Samuelsen–a collection of three short plays (Bar & Kell, Community Standard, Duets) revolving around Mormon women dealing with a variety of issues sure to ring true to both active LDS church members and those who simply are familiar with Mormon culture.

Samuelsen, an active member of the church, has created a series of characters who are utterly believable in these three stories, from the busybody ladies trying to “improve” a new young woman who just moved into the neighborhood (Bar & Kell), to the housewife coming to grips with how her husband views her (Community Standard), to the truly kindhearted choir members trying to understand the troubles a friend is having with her husband behind closed doors (Duets).

I’ll admit that as a non-LDS audience member, some moments and dialogue went over my head. But the emotional wallop contained in each of the stories resound with anyone thanks to Samuelsen’s ability to develop fully sketched characters within brief half-hour one-act plays. Even if you don’t understand the ins and outs of ward life, you will understand and empathize with several of the characters on stage.

Besides the script, credit for that goes to the three actresses taking on the challenge of playing multiple roles, often in the same play. Teresa Sanderson, so brilliant in Plan-B’s Eric(a) last season, remains so across these stories, particularly as the overbearing Bar and anti-Mormon Aunt Dot in Bar & Kell. Christy Summerhays shines brightest as Sondra the conflicted wife with a troubled home life in Duets. And Stephanie Howell’s Janeal is devastating in Community Standard, playing a woman coming to terms with her perceived value to her husband and community at large.

All three do solid work bouncing between roles and keeping up with Samuelsen’s dialogue-heavy script. It’s a testament to the playwright, performers and production staff how well-paced and smooth the entire production of 3 is. And after a whole season of Eric, 3 will actually leave the audience wanting more of Samuelsen’s work on the Plan-B stage, and soon.

3 runs Thursdays through Sundays through April 6 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Check the Plan-B website here for showtimes, tickets and more information. Photo by Rick Pollock.

SLCene Suggests: St. Vincent at The Depot

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ST. VINCENT, THE DEPOT, Friday, March 28, 8 p.m., $25

Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, has quickly established herself as one of the most entrancing performers in modern rock music over the course of four albums (not counting her killer 2012 collaboration with David Byrne, Love This Giant). And her latest, self-titled collection just might be her best yet. Her guitar-playing is at turns aggressive and beautiful, and adds winning texture to the electro-funk and prog excursions that fill St. Vincent on songs like “Birth in Reverse” and “Digital Witness.” The epic sonic excursions from her collaboration with Byrne seem to have inspired Clark to explore all manner of sounds, and her voice is a pliable-enough beast to allow her to make the experimentation sound totally natural. Put all her playful elements together and you have an incredibly listenable album. And when you put Clark on stage, you’re guaranteed a mesmerizing performance. Noveller opens the show.

SLCene Suggests: Ume at Kilby Court

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UME, KILBY COURT, Thursday, March 27, 7 p.m., $8

The first time I heard Ume, the reaction was pretty immediate, and pretty typical of how I react when I get exposed to another raw, straightforward, guitar-bass-drums trio: “Hell ya!” The Texas trio leans toward the bluesy and metallic at times, and hooky, harmony-laden tunes reminiscent of ’80s so-called “college rock” at others. I could see fans of everyone from Throwing Muses to Heartless Bastards to Cream and Hendrix  totally digging the new album, Monuments, if they never heard Ume’s excellent 2011 debut, Phantoms. Lauren Larson has a fine rock and roll voice, and a mean way with guitar riffage, while her husband Eric and drummer Rachel Fuhrer hold down the rhythm section. I Hear Sirens and Grass open the show.

SLCene Suggests: Cody ChesnuTT with Steel Pulse at The Canyons

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CODY CHESNUTT WITH STEEL PULSE, THE CANYONS, Saturday, March 22, 3 p.m., free

The pond-skimming contest at The Canyons is a worthwhile reason to head up to Park City on its own, but the fact the resort is closing the Spring Gruv festivities this year with a free concert headlined by British reggae heroes Steel Pulse makes it all the more appealing. For me, though, the real reason to head to The Canyons resort village Saturday afternoon is show opener Cody ChesnuTT, one of the funkiest, most soulful songwriters working today. The man’s 2002 album, The Headphone Masterpiece, was a brilliant collection that inspired a hit song thanks to a collaboration with The Roots on Chesnutt’s song “The Seed.” It took Chesnutt more than a decade to release another full-length album, 2013′s Landing on a Hundred, and it’s a worthy follow-up, full of soaring harmonies and emotional lyrics that promise great things in the future. Let’s just hope he doesn’t take another decade to put out another record. As an opener for reggae legends like Steel Pulse, expect Chesnutt to make himself a lot of new fans at The Canyons this weekend.

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