Who among us -- out on an evening stroll, say -- hasn't had the sort of pedestrian encounter with mortality portrayed with such aching, indelible beauty in the traveling exhibit "Small Deaths: Kate Breakey"? Still, there's nothing prosaic about these works by the University of Texas at Austin instructor. Her petite portraits of exanimate animals and plants -- broken-winged birds and belly-up lizards, color-denuded blossoms on fast-bowing stems -- are artfully rendered requiems that give lingering meaning to the brief lives of the unhonored dead beneath our feet and our notice. Breakey honors these dead; she makes us notice. The photographer shoots her funereal found objects in extreme close-up, enlarges the ensuing prints and -- like a postmortem makeup artist armed with a jeweler's skill -- hand-inks the images until they glow with false light (and life). It's gorgeous, thoughtful work. Presented in conjunction with FotoFest 98, the installation continues through April 19. Viewing hours are noon to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. The Rudolph Poissant Gallery, 5102 Center, 802-1886. Free.
Outspoken L.A. interdisciplinary artist Elia Arce and Houston performer Liz Mullings transform a narrow and extremely personal theme -- the plight of Latina women stricken with the HIV virus, as they both are -- into universalist creed with their collaboration Al Rojo Vivo ("Bare Bones"), a multimedia work drawing on text, movement and visuals. Arce's previous piece, the heralded No Le Digas a Nadie ("Don't Tell Anybody"), was more or less an exercise in primal-scream therapy decrying what the dual citizen of the U.S. and Costa Rica considers indifference toward and racist/sexist stigmatization of "HIV + Latinas" by the medical fraternity. Al Rojo Vivo, though imbued with the same sort of passionate anger, is a quieter, more contemplative offering in which Arce and Mullings "explore the images and voices present in their daily and nocturnal dreams." 8 tonight (Spanish); 8 p.m. Saturday (English); 7 p.m. Sunday (Spanglish). DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 223-8346. More info: 228-0914. $7; $5 for students, seniors and the disabled.
God, it's good to hear songs about real feelings and stuff again from people without receding hairlines and expanding waistlines. And though Davey von Bohlen and the rest of the youngbloods in the Milwaukee band The Promise Ring have distanced themselves from the Emo movement, their songs still resonate with refreshing conviction, passion and charm. The Ring's on the road in support of its second disc, Nothing Feels Good; bassist Tim Burton has been replaced by Scott Schoenbeck (Alligator Gun) for this tour -- perhaps permanently -- because of injuries sustained in the band's February van flip on a Nebraska ice patch. Jimmy Eat World, P.E.E., Juno and Trackstar share the stage. 8 p.m. Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak, 862-7580. $7.
The Orange Show, that exotic architectural amalgamation celebrating the title hue/fruit and the whimsical Weltanschauung of its creator, late postman and odd duck Jeff McKissack, is one of Houston's more curious and beloved attractions. And the Orange Show Trophy Workshop is one of the facility's more popular participatory events. The statuesque products of the hands-on session -- created using absurdist media like "plastic spiders, doll heads and glow-in-the-dark fish" -- will be awarded to the owners of the winning entries in April 18's Art Car Parade. Noon to 4 p.m. 2401 Munger, 926-6368. $1; free for kids under 12.
For a short time in the '80s, Steve Earle looked like he could be country-rock's new messiah, but then he started acting out some of the seedier aspects of the lifestyle he'd glorified on his twin gems Guitar Town (1986) and Exit 0 (1987), culminating in a 1994 conviction for crack possession. Dried out and sobered up, he returned to the studio in '95 after a four-year hiatus to make the acoustic Train a Comin'. It earned him another shot at the majors (with Warner Bros.), and the soul-scarred neo-country godhead has made the most of his second coming with I Feel Alright (1996) and his latest, El Corazon -- a pair of discs that rivals Guitar Town and Exit 0 for sheer songwriting power and courage. It would take more space than we have here to detail the high notes of the new album -- dedicated to incomparable songsmith Townes Van Zandt, the late Texas poet lariat (if you will) -- but there's blood on the tracks of El Corazon. Our favorite moments include the grungy, wind-tunnel rocker "N.Y.C.," the old-timey "The Other Side of Town" (which, with its keening steel guitar and deliberate pops, scratches and aural pings, sounds like a vintage Webb Pierce side that's been gathering dust motes and mouse droppings in the back of a broom closet) and the elegiac closer, "Ft. Worth Blues," a devastating piece of travelin' blues that includes the truism "Houston really ain't that bad a town" and sounds as if it were ripped right out of Earle's chest. Wow. Buddy and Julie Miller open. 8 p.m. Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas, 230-1600. $15 to $25 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
Though it's not an arts summit on the scale of the tripartite effort made by the Menil Collection, the Contemporary Arts Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts to bring "Robert Rauschenberg: A Retrospective" to town, Inprint's "The Play's the Thing: Three Playwrights & Their Work" is impressive in its own right. Co-sponsored by the Alley Theatre, Stages Repertory Theatre and the Ensemble Theatre, the series includes live appearances by Edward Albee, Horton Foote and Ntozake Shange, three significant figures of modern American stagecraft. It opens with Albee, three-time Pulitzer-winner for A Delicate Balance, Seascape and Three Tall Women and theater professor at the University of Houston. Albee will be interviewed by Ted Estess of UH; he'll also read from his works and field questions from the audience. Each series entry is at a different venue; tonight's starts at 8 at Stages, 3201 Allen Parkway. (Foote is scheduled April 6 at the Alley, Shange April 27 at the Ensemble.) Info: 521-2026, 52-STAGES. $10 to $15 for single tickets; $25 to $40 for a series pass.
California comic Rob Becker spent three years studying furrowed-brow topics like prehistory, sociology and psych as a prelude to writing the lightweight if light-hearted Defending the Caveman, his long-running paean to heterosexual love and the whimsical notion that guys aren't really the troglodytes they seem to be. (That, plus the fact that almost every review uses the word "sweet" or "sentimental," plus the fact that Becker recently performed Caveman for a couple of thousand counselors at the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy conference, dates this piece -- if not back to the Stone Age, then at least to the Hugh Beaumont/ Robert Young era. Can you say "yuppie crowd"?) The touring show opens with performances at 8 tonight and Wednesday; it continues through March 29. The Brown Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. $34 to $40 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
It was the Two Johns of They Might Be Giants who sang "If the pup-pup-puppet head / Was only buh-buh-busted in / It would be a better thing for everyone involved." The song of origin was "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head," and TMBG's comically aggressive and typically gibberish-filled little ditty would be a perfect theme song for Houston's Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre. BPT is not your garden-variety puppet troupe; that sort, targeted at little kids and little minds, makes us want to pick up one of Punch and Judy's tiny battering rams and break all of the small bones in the offending puppeteers' hands. No, Bobbindoctrin, too, is about gibberish-filled art with a wide streak of comic malevolence, but there's a foundation of solemn gravity to BPT's work, and an honest love for the form. That commitment shows up in "Puppet-Infested Planet" -- a co-production of BPT and its usual-suspect partner, Zocalo Theatre. The video fest presents an overview of some of the earnest work being done today in the realm of puppetry, as well as various historical precedents. It continues with a program titled "Puppetry of Asia," including screenings of Lovers Exile: Banraku, Yang Feng: Chinese Puppet Master and Wayangkulit: Java Shadow Puppetry. 8 p.m. NO TSU OH, 314 Main, 222-0443. Free.