Mark Payne Another HSPVA alum who's done good, Mark Payne has been touring with a cabaret show in sunny Florida and sunnier Australia, and now he's back for a show at Ovations, Houston's home for cabaret shows. Payne will perform songs from his soon-to-be-released CD. (Amanda McBroom, writer of "The Rose," is his co-writer on that project.) His vocal stylings will be accompanied by a topnotch trio -- pianist Claudia Burson, bassist David Klingensmith and drummer Richard Waters. One night only. 8 p.m. Ovations, 2536 Times (at Kirby), 522-9801. $6.
Over Forty This night has all kinds of history: Celeste Bedford's acclaimed story chronicles the history of four African-American women and their friendship (consider it a mature Waiting to Exhale); the director, Vernell Lillie, is a former Wheatley High drama teacher; and The Ensemble Theatre presents this preview in celebration of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church's 34th anniversary. Why see the show after it officially opens this summer when you can see it now, and on a special night? 8 p.m. Presented by Wheeler Avenue Baptist and The Ensemble at the University of Houston, Cullen Performance Hall. For reservations or more information, call 748-5295. $15$20.
Italian opera and food Twelve voices from Houston Opera Theater will entertain with arias as diners enjoy potato dumplings with rabbit sauce and chicken Carmelo. "If you ever wanted to have your favorite arias performed just for you," Italian Cultural Center director Emily Ponte says, "or if you have a desire to sing opera, then this evening of fine opera and excellent Italian food and wine is an opportunity to fulfill your desires." This evening is the fourth in a series; the first three were sellouts, so make reservations now.7 p.m. Italian Cultural and Community Center, 1101 Milford (at Bell Park), 524-4222. $45.
Buddhist opera Houston Grand Opera claims, and with reason, that it is "going where few opera companies dare": the afterlife. In The Tibetan Book of the Dead: a liberation through hearing, composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Jean-Claude van Itallie draw from ancient Buddhist teachings to create an opera with all the fun stuff from Buddhism (spiritual questing, insight, enlightenment) and none of the bad (Shih Tzus and rice with yak butter). The Houston Opera Studio's world premiere opens tonight, 8 p.m. Subsequent performances are at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Rice University, Shepherd School of Music, Wortham Opera Theatre, 6100 Main, 227-ARTS. $15$50.
HAMS sixth annual Texas Shoot-Out model car contest and swap meet The theme for this year is "Back to the Sixties" and muscle cars will be the models of the moment, but the 24 contest categories offer something for everyone. The Houston Automotive Modelers Society is sponsoring this show and sale (with vendors from all over with kits, books and accessories) to benefit the National Car Modelers Museum. 9 a.m.5 p.m. Webster Civic Center, 311 Pennsylvania, Webster, 997-1658. $1, admission; bring bucks to buy kits.
Island Art Festival and sandcastle competition All of Galveston is hopping this weekend, as the tourist industry there opens its arms to the first post-Memorial Day crowd of day-trippers. All weekend long, the island (and especially, the Strand and Pier 21 area) will have activities and entertainments for the whole family. But the big event is the tenth annual American Institute of Architects/Steelcase/A&E Products Sandcastle Competition. From11 a.m.6 p.m. today, more than 1,000 professional builders, while competing for the Golden Bucket Award, will create masterpieces on East Beach. Architects, designers and contractors will sweat in the glare of the sun and the glare of the sun on the sand and sea; they'll squint and frown and rub their chins thoughtfully as they build -- what could be a more exciting show? Well, maybe this: after all the hoopla, sometime before dawn, the waters of the Gulf will un-create the masterpieces. Sic transit gloria. For more information, call 622-2081 or 521-0133. Admission to the Island Art Festival is $5; parking on East Beach is $5. (Rain date is Sunday.)
Society of Mind Can computers think? That's the question most thriller/sci-fi authors ask because the other question -- can people think? -- is more troublesome. With the machinery question, either way you answer it, people are flattered: either computers can't think, so we're superior, or they can think, and we stammering featherless bipeds are still tops because we can build such grand technology. Author Eric Harry, a Houston attorney specializing in securities law, has a thinking computer in his new near-future thriller; like so many sentient machines in literature, the contraption suffers from mental problems. Harry signs his book today, 13 p.m. Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet, 529-CLUE, email@example.com. (He also signs 6 p.m. Tuesday, at the River Oaks Super Crown bookstore.)
Art space open house Art fans are invited to an open house at Winter Street Art Space. All 22 artists who work there will be on hand to talk about their work and whether they find the warehouse district creepy. 79 p.m. Take Sawyer north from Washington Avenue, take a right just before the second set of railroad tracks, then enter the white, two-story building behind Mahatma Rice. For more information, call 861-3782.
Reach out, touch faith Congregation Emanu El has announced a Chai Expectations campaign to get Houston Jews who are not currently affiliated with a synagogue, and who have not been with a synagogue for at least a year, to come to an open house and consider Congregation Emanu El. Rabbis and congregants will be present to answer questions and talk about the congregation's style of worship. From 10:30 a.m. until after noon, Congregation Emanu El, 1500 Sunset Boulevard, 529-5771.
The Power of Myth Dress the kids up like were-jaguars, and come on out for a day of fun and music with an Olmec flavor. The Olmec world, a large and long-lived pre-Columbian civilization, is honored with a current museum exhibit, and the MFA people are holding a free family day so modern-day Texans can learn about ancient Mesoamerica. Not only can mom, dad and the kids tour "The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership," but also the family can enjoy live music, performances by Ballet Folklorico Teotihuacan and craft workshops. (Note: the Olmec seem to have sacrificed infants, and the exhibit has information and pictures. Parents may want not to talk about this, or they may want to use this information for their own purposes.) 12:154 p.m. The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300. Family Day activities included in regular admission ($3); free for kids under 18.
Fast Greens In his salad days, author Turk Pipkin was a friend and comrade of comedian Harry Anderson, but now that he's hit his prime, he likes to write about golf and travel. You may have read his seven nonfiction book, or a story in Texas Monthly. Now you have a chance to see him sign his coming-of-age golf novel. 23 p.m. Barnes & Noble, 7626 Westheimer (at Voss), 783-6016.
Cosmic Relief: Honoring & Celebrating the Global Paradigm Shaft Houston author, recovery movement survivor and wit Connie L. Schmidt put together a big fun book of spoof, satire and scathing parody of everything in the self-help section of your local bookstore. Her tales of women who roll in dung, pest-traumatic stress disorder and cat channeling are so much fun that skeptics and New Age noodleheads alike love the book. (Well, most New Age noodleheads love the book. Essential Touch, for instance, sells it, and it goes over well with the Toopees coffeehouse crowd. But Aquarian Age adamantly does not sell the book. This may or may not be because John Gray's mother is an owner, and the book suggests, gently, that Gray is "an arrogant little prick.") Schmidt, who is currently at work on a grammar guide, The Comma Sutra, will sign copies of what she calls a "tawdry tourist attraction on the road less traveled" and "duck soup for the soul." 3 p.m. Borders Book Shop, 9633-A Westheimer, 782-6066.
Gospel Explosion Benefit Concert If you have faith in the power of arts in education, come show your support for the Texas Institute for Arts in Education and Houston Arts in Education. Charles Tyrone and the Faith Community Singers and Jacky Scott and the Revelation will make joyful noises unto the Lord at this benefit for in-school and summertime arts programs for area students. 8 p.m. The Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 228-8421. For more information, visit www.gilbcomm.com and click on "Events." $10$20.
Texas Music Festival The Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival, now in its seventh year, is a four-week performance-oriented residency program for classical music students. To make good on the "performance-oriented" angle, the festival presents students in concert, here and around the state, through June 27. The first Houston concert is tonight; the program includes Infanta Marina for Viola and Piano by Perischetti, Beethoven's Quartet No. 4 in c minor, op. 18, and Dvorak's Quintet in A Major for Piano and Strings. 7:30 p.m. University of Houston, Dudley Recital Hall, Fine Arts Building, 743-3167. $8; $5, seniors and students.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace My, how time flies: today is the sixth anniversary of the Beijing Massacre. In honor of the student uprising, Frontline presents the first-ever television broadcast of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, a documentary that explores the "Beijing Spring," the uprising's background and internal squabbles. When the film premiered at the New York Film Festival, the New York Times proclaimed it "an enthralling documentary ... thorough and well-organized." 8 p.m. KUHT/Channel 8.
Sexy Rexy That's what they used to call him, and though he may have lost his youthful charms, Rex Reed is still delightful. Tonight, at a special reception and screening, the internationally famous film critic talks about his career, movies and one of his favorites: The Member of the Wedding. Reed chose tonight's movie because, he says, "It meets my requirements for a great film. This neglected masterpiece best dramatizes and demonstrates how art can result from a great director who knows how to showcase the lost genius of screenwriting ... you don't need $75 million and special effects to make a quality film that touches the heart." The show begins at 7 p.m.; a champagne and dessert reception follows the film. Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515. $50; $75, event and half-price charter membership in Film Buffs.