Jerusalem-born Palestinian Edward Said (pronounced "Sigh-eed") has more than a professional interest in the Middle East peace process and the de-escalation of tensions between his lands of birth and birthright. The subject is a deeply personal one for the Columbia University professor, and, though he maintains an admirable detachment in his academic essays, he's impassioned and outspoken about the failings of those on both sides of the issue in his public lectures and lay articles (two of his works critical of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were banned for a short time in the West Bank and Gaza). Said addresses "The Tragedy of Palestine" at 8 p.m. Rice Memorial Center, Rice University entrance 1 (off Main Street). Info: 527-6093. Free.
The seven-hour opus Angels in America, the muckraking, tush-tiring, consciousness-expanding, politically extremist, Pulitzer- and Tony-winning, bold and beautifully flawed bombshell of a play, is as close as the American stage has come to greatness this decade -- its fellow Pulitzer/Tony winner Rent notwithstanding. And Angels probably drew as many people back to the theater as it drove away. That's one of the keynotes of the work of Louisiana-born playwright Tony Kushner, who describes himself as a "gay Jewish socialist" and hews uncompromisingly to the endangered (if not extinct) notion of artistic progressivism. Kushner's an accessible radical, and, as he told Mother Jones after the premiere of Angels, "I think preaching to the converted is exactly what art ought to do." Another Kushner keynote is idiosyncratic subtext, and his latest play, Hydriotaphia, or the Death of Dr. Browne, is full of that -- except, in this case, it's not subtext at all. Eccentricity becomes supertext in Hydriotaphia. The odd and oddly named comedy, receiving its world premiere, concerns the dying gasps and thoughts of the obscure but worthy 17th-century author/physician Sir Thomas Browne, one of whose scholarly works was titled Hydriotaphia, Urne Buriall and concerned British funerary relics and the ashes of the Englishmen that filled them. But what the playwright's really doing here is paying homage to a fellow thinker and truth-seeker. Browne was guided by his conscience in the darkness before the dawn of scientific reason; Kushner's a reasonable man in an age beyond reason. 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 production continues through April 25. The Large Stage at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas, 228-8241. $19 to $33 for previews; $31 to $46 for regular performances.
Let's start with the Lindy Hop, which in many ways started with Frankie "Musclehead" Manning. The acrobatic holdover from the Jazz Age (we're talking about the Hop, but the description also applies to Manning) is a hot-swing social dance featuring full-tilt flips and free flights known as "air steps," which Manning invented. The Hop (later known as the Jitterbug) was named after Charles Lindbergh's 1927 "hop" across the Pond. Though it originated in the Roaring '20s, it blossomed in the mid-'30s at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom under the guiding hand of African-American entrepreneur and onetime boxer Herbert "Whitey" White. Manning was perhaps the most significant individual member of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, an all-black troupe that spread the Lindy gospel via tours with the likes of Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Benny Goodman and appearances in films like the Marx Brothers' A Day at the Races. The 84-year-old Manning still reportedly puts swingers a quarter of his age to shame. He hosts a two-part workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. today and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. A related concert, "The Savoy Swings Again," is scheduled from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday. Will Frankie be in attendance? "Dancin' up a storm," says Carnell Pipkin of the sponsoring organization, the Houston Swing Dance Society. The University Center, University of Houston entrance 1 (off Calhoun). Info: (281) 397-0944. $55 for the workshop; $8 to $15 for the concert.
The name and location of the popular Bayou City Art Festival have changed -- it was once known as the Westheimer Art Festival -- but the attractions remain roughly the same: juried arts and crafts, live music, food and libations and various kiddy activities. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. South Picnic Lane at Memorial Park. Info: 521-0133. $5 (proceeds to various charities); kids under 12 get in free.
Renee Fleming and Christoph Eschenbach often make beautiful music together, both on disc (Schubert Album, Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs) and on stage (their most recent live collaboration was with the Chicago Symphony). Soprano Fleming and Houston Symphony Music Director Eschenbach warm up for their next major musical communion -- the Houston Grand Opera's April production of Arabella, featuring Fleming in the title role and Eschenbach on the podium -- with an afternoon recital that includes works by Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Schubert, Barber and Wolf; Eschenbach provides piano accompaniment. 5 p.m. The Cullen Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. $15 to $40 (Houston Ticket Center: 227-ARTS; Ticketmaster: 629-3700).