Piaf This saucy play, penned by respected British playwright Pam Gems, explores the life of France's most infamous chanteuse. Edith Piaf came from a less than genteel background; the illegitimate daughter of an acrobat father, she was abandoned by her street singer mother when she was a wee child of two and raised for several years in her grandmother's whorehouse. Then Piaf herself began singing in the streets. At 19 she was discovered and went on to become an internationally renowned performer, and yet she never found happiness. Her story is the stuff of drama, as was proven in 1978 when the Royal Shakespeare Company premiered this slightly fictionalized recreation of her life in Will's old stomping grounds of Stratford-upon-Avon. In this country, Piaf is sometimes called the French Judy Garland. It's a shortsighted comparison. True, both women were intense, highly talented and fatally neurotic petite brunettes. However, although they were petite and brunette in a similar way, each was intense, highly talented and fatally neurotic in her own unique way. And Piaf never sang with Mickey Rooney. Still, the singer's story offers an actress the chance to go way over the top. Equity actress Alissa Alban has the lead role; we suspect she runs with it. Tonight is the last preview; tomorrow is the official opening with a champagne reception. 8 p.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday. Through January 27. New Heights Theatre, 339 West 19th Street, 869-8927. $10, preview; $15, Friday and Saturday; $12, Sunday.
Boat Show Dad has played Santa for the family; now it's his turn to get the gifts. The "big four-0" Houston International Boat, Sport & Travel Show fills all 19 acres of the Astrohall's floor space with outdoor gear -- from the latest in reels to Gerber knives to yachts -- that can make manly men drool. Everything new in boating will be on display, and the show will also have a pack of exhibits and seminars. Another feature is the NewsRadio 740 KTRH Stop & Dock, a hideout for men playing hooky. Stop & Dock has recliners, TVs, snacks, drinks and fax machines and phones for those who are supposed to be working. In fact, the only thing we can see that's missing is Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel of extravaganzas past. Through January 14. 5-10 p.m. today; noon-10 p.m., Saturdays; noon-9 p.m., Sunday; 1-10 p.m., Monday-Friday. Astrohall/Arena, Astrodomain, Kirby at Loop 610. For tickets, 526-6361. For info on seminars, access the Web site (http://www.iwol.com/ boatshow). $5; $2, children under 12.
Inferno: Shopping in America The Houston Center for Photography celebrates the close of the holiday shopping season with an exhibit of pinhole camera photos by Warren Padula. We are, after all, children of the malls, and this display of fascination with (and horror over) the acquisitive urge is just more proof. Padula says, "If Dante were writing today, he'd borrow Wal-mart's architecture as his central metaphor." You, the casual art fan looking for an exhibition, may not agree with Padula's heady enthusiasm, but most of us will admit that malls have a distinctly surreal appeal. Also, in Gallery X is a black-and-white series by Cuban-born photographer Luis Mallo. "Passengers" is a collection of portraits focusing on New York City subway riders, in particular on their hands, which Mallo sees as hallmarks of identity. Opening and reception tonight with both artists, 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Mallo gives a gallery talk at 1 p.m. Houston Center for Photography, 1441 West Alabama, 529-4755.
How to get rid of Christmas cards Dow Chemical has organized a program to collect old holiday cards, cards which will be given to kids who will use them as art supplies. Children at Gregory Lincoln Elementary and Sanderson Elementary and children who visit the Wesley Community Center will cut out pretty pictures and colored shapes and then make new cards -- get well, birthday, Father's Day, you name it. Used and unused cards will be accepted. Cards collected 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Bellaire Recycling Center, 4400 Edith (near the corner of Newcastle and Beechnut) and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at Dow Chemical Company, 400 West Sam Houston Parkway South (at Deerwood, between Briar Forest and Memorial Drive). For more information, call 978-3665.
Cookie time Girl Scouts are taking cookie orders as of today. And even though, as we learned from Wednesday Addams, Girl Scout cookies are not made from real Girl Scouts, they're undeniably tasty. Sign up for your year's supply of Thin Mints and Caramel deLites (they freeze well). Cookie booth sales won't start until February 17. For more information, call the cookie hot line, 523-8100.
Bridal Extravaganza Think the holidays are a stressful time for families? Hah! Try organizing a wedding. The extravaganza has everything the modern bride needs "to plan the wedding of her dream" (including a baby-sitting service). Hundred of companies will be showing their stuff, bridal fashion shows will showcase the latest in nuptial wear and each bride who registers at the show gets a goodie bag full of coupons and discount cards -- and a free copy of Linda Miller's Houston Bridal Resource Guidebook. 10 a.m. -6 p.m. today; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. George R. Brown Convention Center, Hall A & B, 1001 Convention Center Boulevard. For more information, call 995-9206. $7; $5 advance tickets available at Kroger stores.
Cat Magic Some people hate cats -- and they're not quiet about their feelings. Many cat haters take every opportunity to talk about their feelings, as if anyone cares, and some even offer the bizarre explanation, "I'm a dog person," as if we have to choose one animal or the other. Those annoying folks (who obviously have deeper issues that they're not dealing with) who are such a trial for cat people and the potential serial-killer types who torture cats will not be present at today's 46th Annual Charity Cat Show. Not that it's all beer and skittles; people who are too nice to cats, people whose cooing and fussing over pets is a means of displaying their own gooey "niceness," might be around, but this is not a perfect world and annoying people are with us always. For a cat person, though, the cat show is relatively annoyance-free, and will have hundreds of show cats, and a handful of star cats from the Friskies Cat Team, all demonstrating how to ignore annoying people without compromising your dignity. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. today and Sunday. George R. Brown Convention Center, Hall C, 1001 Convention Center Boulevard. For more information, call 859-3427. $5; $3, seniors and children under 12. Proceeds benefit Animal Rescue League, Citizens for Animal Protection, Fund for Animals, Houston/ Harris County Task Force for Pet Overpopulation, Houston Humane Society and the Houston SPCA.
I Never Saw Another Butterfly This concentration camp drama is always popular with high school drama students, and now HITS Unicorn Theatre presents Celeste Raspanti's play. I Never Saw Another Butterfly is loosely based on drawings and writings from children of the Terezin concentration camp, and this production is timed to be close to the opening of Houston's Holocaust Museum. Houston actress and comedian Dee Macaluso has a leading adult role; the children's parts are played by HITS students. Soprano Patti Spain will perform a song cycle, "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," at tonight's opening. 8 p.m. Presented at HCCS, Heinen Theatre, 3517 Austin. For tickets, call 861-7408. $35 for tonight's program.
Bach's Christmas Oratorio Part IV Can't get enough of heavy-duty church music? Worried that you might have to wait until the next Christmas season? Fear not: St. Matthew Lutheran Church will present Bach's Christmas Oratorio Part IV this morning. 10:45 a.m. St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 5315 Main, 526-5731. Free and open to the public.
Bible Women Elizabeth Swados uses many musical styles, old and modern, in her song cycle, but her work explores themes of suffering and victory that are, trite but true, timeless. Swados' Bible Women is an original musical production celebrating the lives of Esther, Vashti, Ruth, Sarah, Miriam, Lillith, Deborah and good old Eve. Congregation Or Hadash, a new synagogue, brings this lively, feminist show to town for a Houston premiere and for its first fundraiser. 7:30 p.m. Houstonian Hotel, Evergreen Ballroom, 111 North Post Oak Lane. Rabbi Shaul Osadchey will lead a discussion on "Rabbinic Reflections on Bible Women" prior to tonight's show at 6:45 p.m. For information or reservations, call 661-0034. $36-$1,000. The high-price patron tickets include admission to a reception with Swados.
Othello Why wait for the Houston Shakespeare Festival? Why not see Laurence "Cowboy Curtis" Fishburne's paranoid Moor at an HSF benefit? In one evening, you can get your Bard fix and be the first on your block to see the new film version of Othello. Dessert reception at Cafe Express follows the screening. 7 p.m. Cineplex Odeon Theatre, 1450 West Gray. For tickets, call 743-0910. $35.
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Beyond Bitch: Women and Assertiveness Women in Communications Inc.'s task is to provide support and networking opportunities; today's luncheon program is being held at the Brownstone, a very ladies-who-lunch location, and the speaker responsible for Beyond Bitch is Dr. Nancy E. White. In addition to coming up with grabby titles for her talks, White is the clinical director of the Meta Center and ever busy with the task of "helping individuals realize their potential in work and personal relationships." We fear that her talk won't be bitchy enough to be real fun, but it ought to be instructive. 11 a.m.-12:45 p.m. The Brownstone, 2736 Virginia (at Westheimer). For reservations, call Lorna Acua, 656-6520. $26 at the door; $24, advance; $16, students.
Hall Johnson, the Spiritual and the Golden Age of African-American Culture The Friends of Houston Ebony Opera Guild and Saint James Episcopal Church present a lecture on the choral music of Hall Johnson, and on his contributions to and influences from the Harlem Renaissance. Rosalyn M. Story, the author of And So I Sing -- African-American Divas of Opera and Concert, is the distinguished lecturer for tonight's program. Her talk will cover Johnson's music, which included much African-American spiritual music, in the concert hall and in movies. 7 p.m. Saint James Episcopal Church, 3129 Southmore. For information, call 432-1900 or 721-8647. Free.
Damn Yankees Jerry Lewis, although no doubt still mourning the loss of Dean Martin, will open at Jones Hall tonight -- he's a trouper. Damn Yankees is a song-and-dance production about a baseball fan who makes a deal with the devil. This Faust of the ballpark has Lewis in the role of the devil and songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross -- including the standard "You Gotta Have Heart." Opening tonight. Through January 14. Tuesday-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7 p.m. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For tickets, call 629-3700. $40-$46.
Lifelong Learning! The Houston Junior Forum Recreation Center for Older Adults announces a new semester of intellectual stimulation for Matlock fans and other elderly Houstonians. Speakers such as District Attorney Johnny Holmes and lawyer Joe Jamail will give talks, and classes will cover everything from medical news to musical instruments. Shannan Doyle of UH-Downtown, a brave woman, will teach a class on the World Wars and the Great Depression for students who might very well have firsthand knowledge of the subjects. No grades or exams! Students must be 55 or older, or attending as part of a couple and married to someone 55 or older. The semester beginning today continues through May. For more information, or to register, call 528-5395. $30; $50, couples. One fee payment entitles a student to attend as many classes as he or she likes.