Best of Texas Wine Awards and Tasting Before prohibition, Texas was a grape-growing state. Prohibition knocking out our vineyards is a trifle odd, given that they were first planted by Spanish missionaries. (The good padres needed sacramental wine. Anyone who's spent a moment on the parching Gulf Coast can surely understand.) This is the tenth annual tasting of wines from Texas, and while the cynics among us might suspect that this is just another promotional event for just another industry, the sponsors say that the only reason for this event is to revel in the joy of grape. Could be they're right; The Houston Club, home of one of the Southwest's finest cellars, is the driving force here, and they expect more than 500 local wine lovers to attend.
Wines from Texas, more than 75 different types and vintages from more than 16 Lone Star vintners, will be served with international cheeses, French bread and fresh fruits. (Buffet dinner by reservation only in the Azalea Room.) The tasting is, especially considering its locale, quite reasonably priced. 5:30-7:30 p.m. The Houston Club, 811 Rusk, Tenth Floor, Texas Room. For tickets, call 225-1661, ext. 215, or Ticketmaster, 629-3700. $18.50.
Fright Fest What could be more exciting than a funhouse with a "carnival clown gone mad" theme? We just don't know, and that's only one stop at Fright Fest. Six Flags AstroWorld has daytime and nighttime specialties all over the park. Much as homeowners might hang a skeleton from a tree, or put their garbage in pumpkin trash bags, AstroWorld HQ has decorated AstroWorld for the Halloween holiday. The theme park folks are offering an "Arena of Fright" and three haunted houses; Bugs Bunny Land has been decorated as "The Creepy County Carnival"; and Six Flags WaterWorld has been prepared for "Jean La Fright's Haunted Treasure Quest," a spooky hayride. And where do we find the "carnival clown gone mad" theme? At what the Six Flags folks call "The Fantom Funhouse of Fright." (Wonder if a "fantom" is anything like a phantom?)
For more ancient chills, look near the Sword and Crown medieval-theme dinner-theater restaurant (which will be offering dinner dances with diseases of yore). Right next door is "Arania's Castle of Doom," a dark castle with a black widow bride. All of Fright Fest plus AstroWorld's rides, shows and attractions. Fridays, 6 p.m.- midnight; Sat. and Sun., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Through Oct. 30. Discount coupons are available at participating Kroger stores. Six Flags AstroWorld, Kirby at the Loop, 799-8404. $28.09 adults; children 54 inches and under $19.43; two years and under, free.
Tobacco and Boys: the tragical history of Christopher Marlowe ... and the description continues, "the man who outwrote Shakespeare, until politics and the plague intervened." This is an original work by Mike Hanks, of the Goat Song Theatre Group. This troupe is all set for staging a life of Marlowe. Check out Edward II: "My Men, like satyrs grazing on the lawns / Shall with their goat feet dance the antic hay." Marlowe wrote, "I count religion but a childish toy / And hold there is no sin but ignorance" and either died young or, better yet, faked his own death. Marlowe was more of a punk than Rimbaud, also more of a poet. 8 p.m. tonight and Saturdays through Oct. 15. Presented by Goat Song Theatre Group at Kuumba House, 3414 LaBranch (at Holman), 525-5960. $12; discounts for groups, seniors and students.
Evidence of Floods Janie Geiser's puppet theater is an old-world style, otherworldly event. Carefully crafted but not complex marionettes present an ominous, continuous story. The audience peeps through windows and cracks in the ceiling of the puppets' home. This unconventional staging is the first of the performance's series of wonderful, unsettling surprises. The quiet, eerie story has a woman who runs away from her husband and then returns. She returns disguised as a private eye assigned to investigate her own disappearance. Ten Houston artists are employed as puppeteers. The puppets themselves are the same as they ever were. Those not intrigued by the notion of modern puppet theater might well be curious to see pieces of wood that have won Obie and Bessie awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Tonight and Saturday. Admission every 15 minutes between 8-9:30 p.m. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 223-8346. $12, $10 members, $7 students.
Mark Morris Dance Group Dance's bad boy, the first punk provocateur from Seattle, has a rep for frequently raising eyebrows and inspiring snide remarks, and people who should know better go on and on about his smoking and homosexuality. One would think, one would really hope, that his extraordinary reputation as a choreographer and dancer would matter more. But, well, some people have little minds. Mark Morris does not. He is a genius who brings his own wonderful, fresh ideas to modern dance without ever for a moment making a contrived effort to stay away from other forms.
Dance is, in Morris' art, a product of bodies and music. The Mark Morris Dance Group, 16 dancers, have five works for Houston. Gloria was previously presented during the group's 1987 Houston engagement; Handel Choruses is a well-known Morris favorite; and Lucky Charms, Rondo and The Office premiered this summer, and did so to tremendous, delighted acclaim. Gloria alone is worth the price of admission. Today and Saturday. 8 p.m. Cullen Theater, Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 227-1111. $18, $22 and $26.
Pleiadian Project Given the popularity of The X-Files, this appearance by J. Randolph Winters should be happily greeted by many. Winters will speak about the Billy Meier UFO Case (haven't heard of it) and the saucer that purportedly crash landed in Roswell, New Mexico (saw a model kit, to scale, of said saucer at a hobby shop. The kit was more than 20 bucks. If it hadn't been, my kitchen table would be covered with model glue and Testor's paint right now.) He will also talk about his book, The Pleiadian Mission. Winters started the Pleiades Project in 1987. This has to do with the life of Billy Meier, "a Swiss farmer in Switzerland" who has more than 1,000 clear photos of beamships (have not seen a model kit for beamships) and sound recordings of the ships. This Billy (Billy? What Swiss farmer in Switzerland would be named Billy? Clearly, something is afoot.) has metal specimens that have been examined by well-known scientists and proven to be not of this earth! UFO slide show, 2-4:30 p.m., $10; dinner, 5-10 p.m., $30. 3121 Buffalo Speedway, 568-9184. Reservations required.
Greek Festival Now on Sunday! (Take that, Zorba!) After 27 years, the Greek Festival will be held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It's about dang time. Neighbors of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral Complex are not entirely fond of the festival because people drive in from all over town, they come in droves and parking is a mess. So are the people. Oh, it might be possible to eat a pastitsio -- baked macaroni with beef and bechamel sauce -- and keep neat. Careful souls might even be able to enjoy souvlaki -- marinated sirloin -- without untidiness. But tiropita will be the downfall of even the most meticulous diner -- the filo dough is flaky and the feta cheese will drip. Spanakopita, like tiropita but with spinach, is more of a challenge, and then comes kourambiedes (butter cookies with powdered sugar), loukoumades (hot honey puffs that the festival touts as "to die for") and the Never on Sunday Sundae (vanilla ice cream topped with baklava bits). Give in to the inevitable; gobble greedily. Noon-8 p.m. Greek Orthodox Cathedral Complex, 3511 Yoakum, 526-5377. Admission $2, children under 12 free.
Yellow Earth Feudalism is not ancient history for many. Yellow Earth is a study of systems in China set in the hills of the Shaanxi Province, 1939. A quietly beautiful, unhappy bride is wooed by a soldier, and his glorious tales of communism. Intriguingly, the soldier's mission in the village is collecting folk songs.
Cinematographer Zhang Yimou (Red Sorghum) brings his magic to this careful study. Chen Kaige's directorial debut is shown as part of the Visions of the Third World series. (Subtitled.) 7:30 p.m. The Rice Media Center: Rice University, entrance # 8 off University Boulevard, 527-4853. $4.25.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Back on public TV where she belongs. The wildly successful, much-loved children's game show begins its fourth season today. Super criminal Carmen Sandiego will be tracked by kids from all over America and Europe. (In Germany, the show is Jagd um die Welt Schnappt Carmen Sandeigo?)
Kids everywhere will be glued to the set, ready to learn about geography. Amazing but true. Where is the World is Carmen Sandiego? is A) genuinely educational programming and B) beloved by children. There are 50 new shows featuring the same tried and true Emmy and Peabody award-winning cast and crew. This season, North American cultures will be emphasized. A diverse crew will help kids make the connections between the famous, among them Wyatt Earp, Hank Williams and Bessie Smith, and where those famous folks come from. As per usual, five home viewers will win a Carmen T-shirt every day. Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. PBS -- no cable needed!
UH Wind Ensemble After a long, hot summer with no music save the buzzing of cicadas, cool air is here and with it comes a refreshing schedule of concerts. This evening, Eddie Green directs and the wind ensemble will perform Golden Light, by Davie Maslanka; Flag of Stars, by Gordon Jacob; Passacaglia, by Ron Nelson; and Nimrod, by Edward Elgar. 7:30 p.m. Cullen Performance Hall, entrance no. 1 off Calhoun, University of Houston, 743-3167. $5, $3 seniors and students.
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A Trim Terrific Louisiana Kitchen Holly Berkowitz Clegg's new cookbook is the most startling blend of cultures we've ever seen. The book is about Louisiana food and all the recipes are low in fat and cholesterol. It seems these roux do not begin with a pound of butter. Any sane person would doubt that etouffee can be prepared in a low-cholesterol way, but Clegg is sure any dish can be delish and also low in fat. She's so sure that selections from her cookbook will be served at this book-signing luncheon. Clegg didn't just wander into the kitchen and start fiddling. The Texas native studied at the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in London and the Cordon Bleu and La Varenne schools in Paris. She now resides in Baton Rouge. Copies of her book will be on hand for purchase and autographs, though she will also sign copies purchased elsewhere. (And also, we hope, copies of The Devil's Food, her dessert cookbook.) Registration 11 a.m., luncheon 11:30 a.m. Congregation Beth Israel, 5600 North Braeswood, 980-7707. $10, $9 seniors.
Circus Flora When you're a Wallenda, you know from circus. Tino Wallenda, grandson of Karl Wallenda, carries on the glorious tradition of the circus -- the kind of circus Toby Tyler and bearded-lady lesbian performance artists would run away to. Circus Flora is a one-ring, old-fashioned circus begun in the disco '80s to celebrate the soul of circus arts.
Flora is the circus' namesake. She's a 13-year-old African elephant who is, in a small way, responsible for the whole show. The circus' cofounder, Ivor David Balding, came home one day and announced, "I've bought a baby elephant! Now we can start a circus." Balding had some background in circusing and producing. (One of his Broadway shows was a Tony nominee.) Now Flora is a performer and the circus includes great Wallendas (working without a net), bareback riders, jugglers and clowns.
No member of the audience is more than 40 feet from the ring and sawdust gets up your nose. Through Oct. 16. Wednesday-Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday 7 p.m.; Sunday 1:30 and 5:30 p.m. General admission $15, group rates available, children under two free. The Children's Museum, 1500 Binz, 227-