Torch Song Trilogy Harvey Fierstein's compilation of one-acts, all concerning a gay man who must learn to accept and love himself as he learns to accept and love those around him even with all their collective limitations and fears, won a Tony Award in 1983. And though some may think the story a tired one, now that we've entered the Ellen days of 1997, any serious reader knows that questions of identity, sexual and otherwise, are some of the most constant and universal in literature. This is the Masquerade Theatre's second show of their first season. The first one, Runaways, was held over twice. Check out what all the hoopla's about. 7:30 p.m. The Masquerade Theatre, 720 W. 11th Street. 861-7045. $12; $10, seniors and students.
Houston House Beautiful Show Creating a swanky abode can require lots of window-shopping, forcing you to trek from the Galleria to Town and Country Mall to the Highland Village area. Wouldn't it be great if all that shopping could be done in one stop? Your wish has come true. The Houston House Beautiful Show, the largest of its kind in the Southwest, begins today. Over 600 companies will offer their wares in 1,000 booths spread across 375,000 square feet. Now that's a shopping mall. Find everything from tips on making your home more energy-efficient to a working, water-spouting fountain set in the middle of an indoor "garden." Of course there will be rugs, kitchen cabinets, pillows, couches, electronics, remodelers -- in other words, everything you need to make your heart practically burst with desire. Get ideas, get facts, get in the mercantile spirit of the day. 3-9 p.m. (See Thrills, Events for other times and dates.) George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Convention Center Blvd. For information, call Southwest Exhibitors at (817) 421-6522. $6, adults; $4, seniors and juniors (1216); free, children under 12; and the whole thing is free today if you get there by 5 p.m.
Houston Ballet The Houston Ballet begins its new season tonight with three ballets. One intentionally throws the dancers off-kilter: The Four Temperaments was choreographed by George Balanchine, who reveled in paradoxes, such as the idea that dancers off-balance can be both graceful and beautiful. Sinfonietta, a "spiritual" work, is set to a score by Leos Janacek, who employs elements of Czech folk music. Finally, there's the premiere of a brand new work, Eclipse, choreographed by the ballet's artistic director Ben Stevenson. His abstract piece is inspired by space travel, a Texas artist and, of course, eclipses; he sets all that inspiration to Chopin's Second Piano Concerto. The evening sounds both eclectic and strangely unified, a combination Balanchine would have surely appreciated. 7:30 p.m. (See Thrills, Dance for other dates and times.) Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas, 227-ARTS. $10-$88.
Houston Philatelic Society The philatelic life is often a lonely one. How many stamp collectors have experienced a raised eyebrow, a hidden snicker, a rolled eye from some skeptical outsider who knows nothing of the joys of collecting those tiny scraps of colorful paper from distant lands and times, then filing them into their own little home in a box or book? But this weekend, stamp collectors can be among their own and joyfully announce, in public, the thrill of seeing for the first time the "Jenny Invert" up-close and in person. Besides presenting this popular and recognizable stamp error, with its upside-down airplane, the society will feature 32 dealers, a beginners' area and hundreds of pages of stamp collections. Today there will also be an auction of the Vanderford Collection conducted by Sam Houston Philatelics. Come out of the enveloping confines of secrecy and announce your love of stamps to a world of folks who understand. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (See Thrills, Events for other dates and times.) The Humble Civic Center, 8233 Will Clayton Parkway, (281) 537-1081. Free.
Houston Symphony Maestro Christoph Eschenbach, now beginning his tenth season, has taken the symphony across the globe, garnered it tremendous praise and produced such interesting marketing strategies as a singles' night out. Tonight, to kick off a season celebrating the partnership of Eschenbach and the symphony, there's an all-French program. "Vive la France!" will feature pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque, who will perform the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos. Also on the program is Berlioz's overture to Roman Carnival, Saint-Saëns's Carnival of Animals and Bizet's Suite from Carmen. You don't have to be single to enjoy the night out. 7:30 p.m. (See Thrills, Music for other dates and times.) Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-ARTS. $18-$60.
Good/Bad Art Collective These folks have been known to seal themselves inside a building wearing nothing but boxer shorts while munching on nothing but bread for three days, and one of them recently floated off into the wild blue yonder sitting in a lawn chair attached to 45 weather balloons. Oh, the sacrifices of the artistic life! Today marks yet another in a long series of one-day "art events" put on by this collection of wacky -- but truly serious -- artists. The entire art space of DiverseWorks will be turned into a roller rink complete with art installments for your skating pleasure. Roll by the art, roll around the art, ignore the art, but most of all participate in this innovative attempt to expand not only our minds, but our definitions of what art can be. Noonmidnight. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 223-8346. Free.
Second Annual Unity and Friendship Gala Elyse Lanier is right: One of the finest things about Houston is the extraordinary diversity of cultures this city supports. Immigrants from all over come seeking a new life that is as American as apple pie or matzo-ball soup or fried plantains or curried goat. Tonight, the Unity and Friend-ship Gala will celebrate that diversity with dinner, live and silent auctions and music delivered by the Trans-Arabian Sound. The guest of honor is Casey Kasem, the famed humanitarian, vegetarian and top 40 DJ. Proceeds will go toward building the non-political, non-denominational Arab-American Cultural and Community Center. 7 p.m. Imperial Ballroom, Hyatt Regency, 1200 Louisiana, 626-3250. $125.
Building a Healthy Body MetLife WonderWeekend Health information is so ubiquitous in the media, at school and on the backs of cereal boxes that today's kids ought to know tons about eating right and keeping fit. But that info is often so boring that staying healthy strikes youngsters as deadly dull. Not today: At the Children's Museum, kids can learn about the food pyramid through performances and activities, and by playing their favorite sports. And local athletes will tell the tiny folks how to stay healthy.9 a.m.-5 p.m. today and Sunday. Children's Museum, 1500 Binz, 522-1138. $5; $4, seniors; free, children under two and museum members.
Red Ribbon Extravaganza Decadence for a good cause: This evening of cabaret, dance, dining and fashion benefits research on HIV/AIDS and related diseases at the City of Hope National Medical Center. The fashion show will be a tribute to the late Gianni Versace; it's presented by Versus in the Galleria. Dance music blasts courtesy of guest DJ Danny M, imported from Miami's oh-so-with-it South Beach. The silent auction will offer such fine items as a Tommy Hilfiger golf bag and weekend packages, and a light dinner will be cooked in the wondrous kitchen of Carrabba's Italian GrillSugar Land. 4-11 p.m. City Streets Houston, 5078 Richmond,521-2910. $25 at the door; $20 in advance.
African American Arts Council of Houston It used to be called liturgical dance, but now it's known by the much happier-sounding appellation "praise dancing": improvisation meets modern dance, with a large jolt of jubilant, inspired spirituality. Tonight's show features 13 dances by both professional and non-professional dancers, as well as a children's group. If you're lucky, the spirit might even move you. 7:30 p.m. Jewish Community Center, Kaplan Theater, 5601 South Braeswood, 772-3465. $10, door; $8, advance; $5, groups of ten or more.
The Rhythm Cloggers Today the Rhythm Cloggers, which calls itself Houston's "premiere" clogging troupe, is offering a free introductory lesson in that strange stomping dance from the Appalachian mountains. It's as good for your heart as jogging, but a whole lot less boring. 2-3 p.m. Northwest Dance Center, 3334 Pinemont, 937-8096. Free; beginners are urged to wear leather-soled shoes.
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Seventh Annual Reptile Breeders Expo Let a snake slither up your arm, hold a lizard in your palm or stroke the leathery sides of a frog this weekend. Sixty amphibian and reptile vendors from across the country are ready and waiting to ply their slimy, scaly trade -- and they guarantee that not a single animal is venomous, wild-caught or endangered. These little furless friends were born for a cage and born to love you -- at least in their decidedly cold-blooded way. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Marriott North at Greenspoint, 255 N. Sam Houston Parkway. For information, call Russ Walker at (409) 594-5554. $4, adults; $1, children 12 and under; free, infants.
Writing classes Today Inprint, the nonprofit organization dedicated to the literary arts, begins several series of creative writing workshops that cover everything from poetry to "Bad-Girl Fiction." Each class puts would-be authors through the wringer, with eight weeks of writing, talking about writing, reading great examples of writing and then, of course, more writing. Call 521-2026 for a schedule. $225 per workshop; scholarships available to HISD teachers on a first-come, first-served basis.
Looking at Art Series Galleries can be terribly intimidating. They're library-quiet and full of stuff you can't touch; most of the time they don't even look open for business. If you've always wanted to go see what's up but don't know the etiquette, these classes are your chance to get the scoop. During the five-week sessions, the class will meet at various art strongholds around town, and artists, gallery owners, dealers and collectors will explain what they do. The first class begins at McMurtrey Gallery, where Houston artist Ibsen Espada will speak; later outings include artists' studios, more galleries and "alternative" spaces. By the end of the fifth class, you'll be able to attend gallery openings fearlessly, sure of your ability to art-speak with the best of them. 7-9 p.m. (See Thrills, Art for other times and dates.) McMurtrey Gallery, 3508 Lake Street. Call 868-9589 to reserve a space. $60 for the series.
Racism: Woman to Woman, A Dialogue Racism and sexism are pervasive and stubborn social ills. And though it may seem that there couldn't possibly be anything new about the subjects, tonight Sandra Fitts and Deborah O'Bryan, members of the Center for the Healing of Racism, will hold the first of three discussions; no doubt the topics will prove as hardy as ever. Tonight's discussion will focus on defining prejudice and racism and discussing ways in which they are perpetuated, including a look at early childhood experiences and misinformation. 7-9 p.m. Brigid's Place, Christ Church Cathedral, 1117 Texas, 222-2593, ext. 333. Free.