A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas This now ubiquitous holiday story was, when it apeared in 1843, the invention of Christmas as we know it. Before this veritable blueprint for Christmas celebrations sprang from Charles Dickens' pen, people simply took a little extra care when dressing for church and had plum pudding. Imagine what we owe Chuck. Dickens wrote the novella for reasons of his own -- to spread cheer and bring joy or to pay bills or whatever -- and then, noting its success, wrote the stage version and December in the Western world has not been the same since. Without the saccharine adventures of Scrooge and the spooks, we might live in a world without Thanksgiving Day parades and all the decked and jolly horrors that follow. The stage version can be stinky with commercialism or a harmless family treat. The regular Alley production has been around, it seems, as long as the original play and is a tradition in its own right. Since we no longer have a Sakowitz downtown to decorate, this and the Houston Ballet's Nutcracker are all we have left. Take the whole family. Kids like live theater. Kids would love The Flahooly, even. Tue.-Thur., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:20 & 8 p.m.; and Sun., 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Alley Theatre, Large Stage, 615 Texas Ave., 228-8421. $17-$40.
Pleiades Gifts from the goddess, it seems. Local women artists have set up shop to sell ceramics, jewelry, cards, clothes and other unique gift items "of beauty to invoke the deeper spirit of the season." 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Shop under the trees today and Saturday. Art show and sale on the lawn, 1400 Sul Ross.
Faust People think they know the good alchemist Faust. Well, people thought they knew Alice in Wonderland, too, until Jan Svankmajer went after her. The Czech director and stop-motion animator is in a class by himself and is just the man to tackle the themes of magic and manipulation in modernity. He draws from Goethe's and Marlowe's account of the alchemist who made a pact with the devil, and he turns to Gounod's opera as well for his text. The images, though, are his alone and not -- seriously not -- suitable for children or the faint of heart. Svankmajer melds live action, human-sized puppets and claymation for something surreally unique. Special premiere engagement, two screenings tonight and tomorrow, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. The Rice Media Center, Rice University, entrance no. 8 off University, 527-4853.
Da Camera Oh, soon they'll be statewide. Da Camera has now arranged a concert in Richmond. Russian Contrasts is a very intense, very broody and passionate Slavic evening featuring works by the almost-overwhelmingly romantic and beautifully dead Sergei Rachmaninoff along with works by contemporary Russian composers Alfred Schnittke and Sophia Gubaidulina. The performers are Ida Levin, violin; Sarah Rothenberg, piano; and Gary Hoffman, cello. 8 p.m. George Memorial Library, 1001 Golfview, Richmond. This concert is free, but reservations are required because seating is limited. Call 341-2642.
Canadian Brass Their most recent CD contains a "Tuba Lullaby" which isn't as off-the-wall and peppy as one might think. On stage tonight, however, the ensemble offers their zippy holiday best. The first half of this evening's program is fairly strait-laced -- Mozart and Vivaldi and so forth. The concert's second half is a tribute to seasonal favorites, and ends with a sing-along. Curtain talk with the horn players at 7:15, special children's choir performance at 7:30, concert at 8 p.m. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-ARTS. $6-$34.
Dickens on The Strand Giant pantomime masks are on parade -- Dickens on The Strand is here again. Actors in normal-sized costumes will stroll The Strand wearing giant papier-máche heads fashioned in the likeness of Ebenezer Scrooge and other Dickens characters. If limeys loosened up a little bit and had something like Mardi Gras, the resulting tomfoolery would look like this event. The japery begins at 2 p.m. with the Queen's Parade. Bagpipers and (bogus) Beefeaters march, and, new this year, a matched pair of dapple gray horses pulls a restored 1891 American-LaFrance Metropolitan fire wagon. (Hoot and cheer as loudly as possible when the wagon rolls by; if the promoters think it's wildly popular, then maybe next year they'll let the horses run at breakneck speed!) Other equines in the Victorian parade include Peruvian Pasa Finos carrying ladies in severe (and fetish-inspiring) Victorian riding habits. Parade floats pulled by horses will follow. (An 1885 horse-drawn hearse from the Houston Funeral Services Museum offers that Interview with the Vampire moment.) Tonight only there will be a Pickwick's Lanternlight Parade at 6 p.m. As always, vendors and craftspeople will be hawking their wares and street performers and puppeteers will be entertaining. The festival gates open at 10 a.m. today and Sunday. Advance tickets are available at Randall's stores or through the Galveston Historical Foundation, (409) 765-7834. $8, children 12 and under and everyone in 19th-century dress free.
Harlan Ellison Some hapless, indignant squid once accused author Harlan Ellison of "just writing to shock." Ellison's reply was, "You bet your ass, slush-face," a statement that was followed by a lengthy, articulate discussion of why people need to be goosed and unsettled and even horrified. (The reason, by the way, is that the world is ugly and unhappy and we could do much to improve our dismal state.) Ellison has also been accused of being an elitist, a charge he answers by citing "a lemming-like urge to be up front." Ellison has published 60 books, and these texts (the ones that can be found) are most often shelved with the science fiction. Ellison stridently insists that he not be called a science fiction writer; he prefers the appellation "award-winning author," never mind that the bulk of those awards were in the SF genre. Still, in the 1960s, Dorothy Parker gave one of Ellison's first books a glowing review, and his work has never been all that genre-bound. He's written shelves full of striking, and usually wildly funny, short stories, and one day may just get that final Dangerous Visions out. This afternoon, he signs copies of his I, Robot screenplay, lavishly illustrated by Mark Zug. I, Robot is $14.99, and mint-condition copies of out-of-print classics such as Approaching Oblivion and the original DeathBird Stories will also be sold for signing. The deal is, you can only have books you already own signed if you buy a new book today. 2-5 p.m. Future Visions Books, 10570 Northwest Freeway (290 between Mangum and 34th), 682-4212.
Holiday Trees Those who haven't visited the Museum of Natural Science since the butterfly center was opened aren't likely to recognize the old place, and now it's changed again. Groups from around town have decorated trees that stand in the entry hall and are on view even to those who haven't paid admission. Some of the trees are scientific. "A Christmas Display of Shell Mosaics," trimmed with Sailors' Valentines, was created by the Houston Conchology Society to complement the shell mosaics in the Strake Hall of Malacology; the museum guild's "2000 -- Shoot for the Stars" tree wears stars and other celestial objects that are like the heavenly bodies celebrated in the planetarium. Other trees, such as the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center kids' tree, are whimsical. The Ukrainian-American Cultural Club has decorated its tree in a traditional, old-fashioned style. The trees will remain in the museum until January 3. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, noon-6 p.m. Houston Museum of Natural Science, Hermann Park, 639-4600. $2; $1.50 kids.
Metamorphosis: An Evolution of Motion Dance from hip-hop to ballet inspired by music as diverse as the soundtrack from The Lion King will be performed by students of the University Dance Theatre/University of Houston. These students have choreographed the dances to be presented and also performed a much more difficult task: they've produced the show. 4 p.m. University of Houston, no. 230 Melcher Gym, on Holman near the Hofheinz Pavilion, 743-9842. $2.
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Go Finals It ain't Pente, and the Atari company got its name from this not-at-all-simple game of stones and straight lines ("atari" being one of the possible situations in Go). The weekend has been devoted to the pleasant tinkling of the stones used in this ancient Chinese war game. After two days of star points, bamboo joints, horses' heads, monkey jumps, joseki and oitoishi, players in the "Dan" rank are ready for the last day of the Eighth North American Fujitsu of Japan Qualifying Go Tournament. Two of the highest-ranked U.S. players, Michael Redmond and Janice Kim, will be playing. Slightly less fierce players will compete on the last day of the Houston Go Club's Fall Tournament. This 4,000-year-old game has always been popular in China and has been played in Japan for at least the last century. Now, it's your turn. The Houston Go Club invites everyone to see the final day of play, and the club's public relations director says, "new members are always warmly welcomed." (If you're too chicken to play strangers face-to-face, check out the Internet Go Server, where there's always a game going.) Houstonian Hotel, 111 North Post Oak Lane. For more information, call Andrew Kochis, 486-5459. Free.
The Housing Crisis: How Will Houston Respond? The subject isn't empty apartment buildings, which is many a former real estate ace's bust-days nightmare. No, the Rice Design Alliance, fresh from their fabulous Sheetrock Around the Clock ball, is sponsoring a panel discussion on housing for low-income families. Boldly, they have put Allen Parkway Village on the agenda (Lenwood Johnson is one of the speakers), and the focus of the evening will be on how to house people even as federal funds disappear and local agencies, public and private, become responsible for providing affordable lodging. Sociologists, economists, architects and planners will all offer their diagnosis and suggest solutions. We suppose you could ignore this discussion; we suppose you could ignore both it and the housing problem and still go to bed with a clear conscience and sleep like a child. We suggest, however, that rather than sit at home grousing at CNN you attend this lecture for two novel experiences. One, you will see people more frustrated than you are. And, two, you will have to think about things which don't directly and immediately affect you. What a hoot! 7:30 p.m. Rice University, Sewall Hall, rm. 302 (entrance no. 2 off Main), 524-6297. Free.
Mike Pogue Experience the magic of "Mikeism, Mikeism, Mikeism," line drawings and cartoon art, at Funk Art.Poguesays,"Truckers Welcome." Through December 23. 2439 Bissonnet, 527-9100.
Paul Driscoll Before becoming overwhelmed, even nauseated, with "holiday magic," why not enjoy an evening of Las Vegas magic? Billed as "Houston's own skyscraper of magic and comedy," towering Texan Paul Driscoll is 6 feet 9 inches. The most amazing thing about Driscoll, though, is that he has come up with a new way to honor the King. While trashy people claim to have seen Elvis' sideburned countenance at Burger King and the Weekly World News publishes unretouched photos of his meetings with aliens, Paul Driscoll alone has tried to give the Memphis messiah what he needs right here and now. Elvis is dead (since 1977, get over it) and yet he lives in Driscoll's "Velvis" tribute. The spirit of the King is magically evoked via a velvet Elvis painting. Elvis, you know, was a huge fan of Andy Kaufman. Don't you think he'd have liked "Velvis"? Magic Island, 2215 Southwest Freeway, 526-2442. $24.95.