Distant Voices The work-in-progress, penned by Houston's Celeste Bedford-Walker based on a concept by Peter Webster, dramatically disinters some of the famous and not-so-famous residents of the College Memorial Park Cemetery in the Fourth Ward (a.k.a. Freedmen's Town). The drawn-from-life (and death) characters inhabiting Walker's "pageant of the African-American experience" include Antioch Baptist Church founder Jack Yates and Texas Light Guard drummer John Sessums. The aforementioned Webster directed; Horace-Alexander Young wrote the accompanying score, and performs it with his trio. Opening performances are at 7:30 tonight, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. Presented in conjunction with Black History Month, the production continues through March 1. The new Audrey Lawson Arena Stage at the Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 520-0055. $10-$25.
The Gulf Coast Playboys Cultural chameleon Bradley Williams did stints shoveling fish at a Japanese market and playing for tips on San Francisco street corners before making his way to Cultural Chameleon Central -- Austin -- in the mid-'90s. The Michigan native already knew his way around an accordion thanks to his Polish lineage, and he put the knowledge to good, if unorthodox, use by co-founding the fine Eastside conjunto band Los Pinkys with Isidro Samilpa (that's conjunto as in the muy caliente Tejano dance strain, not "The Beer Barrel Polka"). The restless Williams is now exploring the sound of South Louisiana with his Playboys, an equally fine Cajun knockoff that includes guitarist Steve Doerr (a former LeRoi Brother) and fiddler Ralph Williams (of the Bad Livers). The Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, 869-COOL.
Sister Hazel and the Freddy Jones Band Hootie's Blowfish meet Up With People in Sister Hazel, which hails from the same town as the talented ska punks in Less Than Jake -- Gainesville, Florida -- but couldn't be more different. Named after Sister Hazel Williams, a Gainesville-based missionary, the all-guy Sis traffics in what used to be called good vibes and in upbeat tunes that try really hard, but refuse to stick in the head. Chicago's Freddy Jones (none of whose members is named Freddy or Jones) is similarly challenged. Blame it on the "Triple A" radio format, that '90s breeding ground for aural Alzheimer's and a tunefully insidious safe house for both of these acts; we double-dog dare you to hum a song by either band as you leave the building. Numbers, 300 Westheimer, 526-6551. $12 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
Long Day's Journey into Night, starring Ellen Burstyn Eugene O'Neill's examination of the upended American dream, curdled like a carton of milk left out in the sun, has always made for a riveting (if deeply distressing) evening of theater. Interestingly, the press release uses the word "dysfunction" to describe the malady afflicting the turn-of-the-century New England family at the center of the piece (the Tyrones -- thinly veiled stand-ins for the playwright's own troubled brood). "Dysfunction" is the sort of bloodless generality O'Neill never would have used, and, though the word is in keeping with the ankle-deep calamities that define our time, it strikes us as a trivialization of the timeless tragedy of this bloody and black-hearted American dream of a play. So much contemporary theater panders to the postliterate; here's hoping this "new production" of Journey doesn't monkey around with O'Neill in some ill-advised attempt to transform the moral and emotional destitution of the Tyrones into some mod and more easily digestible group-therapy session. Academy Award-winner Burstyn (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) stars as drug-addled matron Mary Tyrone. Previews are scheduled at 8 tonight and Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday. The official opening is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The run continues through March 29. The Neuhaus Arena Stage at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 228-8241. Tix: $22 (previews); $36-$40 (regular).
Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo The farm comes to America's fourth-largest market, and, as with most things Texan, the accompanying braggadocio's as deep as the dung after a cattle drive. While the HLS&R can back up its Brobdingnagian boasts -- both the livestock show and the PRCA-sanctioned rodeo are the world's largest in their respective realms, and just about every hat with a set of pipes and a pair of painted-on jeans from here to Nashville is scheduled to perform during the related concert series, beginning with tonight's show by Alan Jackson -- how much homespun charm can one really expect 'neath the Teflon hulk of the Astrodome? The HLS&R, which also includes a horse show and a carnival, opens today and continues through March 8; for details, see the special section elsewhere in this issue. The 'dome, Astrohall and AstroArena, 8400 Kirby, 799-9500. More info: 791-9000; www.hlsr.com. $2-$20 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
The Keeper Joe Brewster, a native of south-central L.A., hatched the plot for this, his feature-film debut, while working as a psychiatrist at the Brooklyn House of Detention. Giancarlo Esposito (Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues) stars as a corrections officer at a similar New York facility who's torn between his career, his cultural heritage, his commitment to his marriage (Texas-born Regina Taylor portrays his wife) and his concern for a young Haitian immigrant imprisoned on a rape charge (Isaach De Bankole). The 1996 film has its Houston premiere with screenings at 7:30 tonight and Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday. The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300. More info: 639-7515. $5; $4 for students.
Liz Lerman Dance Exchange The Exchange, founded in Washington, D.C., in 1976, has become a staple on the movement circuit. Lerman's works, she says, are "about people dancing, not dancers dancing"; similarly, the subjects the choreographer tackles tend to be grassroots in nature. Aside from her community-outreach projects, Lerman's probably best known for her rare ability to transmute the mundane into the sublime; one of her more appealing pieces deals with shopping for pantyhose. The troupe's current tour features an all-Lerman program: "Fresh Blood" (1996; music by Steve Elson), "Nocturnes" (1996; Willie Nelson), "Flying into the Middle" (1995; Tchaikovsky) and the premiere of "untitled." 8 p.m. The Cullen Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. Tix: Houston Ticket Center (227-ARTS); Ticketmaster (629-3700).
Almodovar Film Festival Held in conjunction with the recent release of Live Flesh, the latest work by the bawdy and bodacious Spanish director, the fest features the Pedro classics Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), Kika (1993) and High Heels (1991). The series continues each Saturday through March 7. Tie Me Up! and Women on the Verge screen this week in separate theaters; each starts at midnight. Landmark River Oaks 3, 2009 West Gray, 524-2175. $6.75.
African-American Music Gala Duke Ellington's "Third Sacred Service" and excerpts from R. Nathaniel Dett's oratorio "The Ordering of Moses" are the program highlights at this annual choral concert. Also planned: various traditional spirituals featuring contemporary arrangements by Roland Carter, Moses Hogan and others. Carter conducts the Houston Ebony Opera Guild. 7 tonight; 4 p.m. Sunday. Christ Church Cathedral, 1117 Texas. Info: 529-7664. $15.
Christopher Kalil Memorial Lecture, featuring Joel-Peter Witkin Brooklyn-born Witkin is one of the outlaws of contemporary art. The Tod Browning of still photography, Witkin inhabits (some would say litters) his often troubling tableaux with fetishistic aberrations and twisted allusions, hunchbacks and hermaphrodites, creepy corpses and severed heads, French-kissing cadavers and religious blasphemes by the score. All in the name of art and redemption, of course. "I measure history by our capacity to wound -- and hope," he says. Witkin says a lot more in a rare public address titled "Between Travesty and Transfiguration," the inaugural lecture in the Kalil series, dedicated to the memory of the late, Witkin-inspired Sam Houston State University photography student who was killed in 1996 by a driver under the influence of drugs. 2 p.m.; a reception follows. The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300. More info: 639-7500. Free.
Fifth Ward The how-lo-fi-can-you-go feature debut by 30-year-old environmental engineer Greg Carter received warranted kudos when it screened recently as part of the "Local Spin: Independent Houston Filmmakers" series. Proving that production values aren't the whole story, Fifth Ward tells a credible, unpredictable tale of a promising kid (Kory Washington) walking a razor's edge in Houston's notorious 'hood. In conjunction with Black History Month, the movie plays at 5 and 7 p.m. (More showings are slated for the same times March 1.) Rice Media Center, Rice University entrance 8 (off University Boulevard), 527-4853. $5; $4 for students and seniors.
Buto-Sha Tenkei (Heavenly Chickens) Viewers of the Winter Olympics in Nagano were spoon-fed a steady diet of well-scrubbed images of traditionalist Japan by the family-friendly CBS network. Presenting a polar view of the Land of the Rising Sun, Mutsuko Tanaka and Ebisu Torii's extremist performance troupe (Fowl from Hell would be more appropriate) is making America pay through the nose for Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Occupation with its inaugural tour of the States. An offshoot of Tatsumi Hijikata's postwar ankoku buto ("dance of darkness") -- an avant-garde movement, now commonly referred to as butoh, which simultaneously built bridges to more conventional Japanese art forms and torched the spans down to their timbers -- Buto-Sha Tenkei specializes in performances of a "physically intense style verging on the blood-curdling." The latter's an apt term; to our admittedly challenged senses, Heavenly Chickens calls to mind an image of literate vampires, well-roasted over a nuclear spit, mating vigorously. Yikes. Whee. 8 p.m. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 223-8346. $20; $17 for students, seniors and DiverseWorks members (tix: 228-0914).
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo And while we're on the subject of dance with a difference, these tutu-clad dudes -- actually from New York, and known as the Trocks to their fans -- are parodists supreme, deconstructing repertory staples and stylistic "conceits" from the Bolshoi to Balanchine, but with great affection. Here, in a nutshell, is the mission statement du Trock: "The fact that men dance all the parts -- heavy bodies delicately balancing on toes as swans, sylphs, water sprites, romantic princesses, angst-ridden Victorian ladies -- enhances rather than mocks the spirit of dance as an art form." The works scheduled to receive the Trock treatment this time around include act two of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, Vivaldi Suite, Fokine's adaptation of Saint-Saëns' The Dying Swan and Minkus's Paquita. 8 p.m. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-3974. Tix: Houston Ticket Center (227-ARTS); Ticketmaster (629-3700).
Margarett Root Brown Houston Reading Series, featuring Alice Adams and Cynthia Macdonald Decorated short-story writer Adams reads from her recent novel Medicine Men; Adams is joined by Macdonald, the founder of the University of Houston's creative-writing program, who'll share selections from her new collection of poetry, I Can't Remember. 8 p.m. The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300. More info: 743-3013. $5; free for students and seniors.
Egret Awards Dinner, featuring Peter Matthiessen Author Matthiessen (The Snow Leopard, The Cloud Forest, The Tree Where Man Was Born) is a pioneering nature/travel writer and one of the founders of the modern environmental movement. He makes a rare local appearance to stump for endangered avians as part of this Houston Audubon Society-sponsored event, which features a theme of "Cranes Around the World." George Archibald of the International Crane Foundation is also expected to attend, and awards will be presented to the Texas Birds Records Committee, Dow Chemical and the Houston Chronicle's Doug Pike, among others. 7:30 p.m.; a reception precedes. The JW Marriott, 5150 Westheimer, 961-1500. More info: 932-1639. $65.