The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Small Mouth Sounds, Joshua Bell, Manon and More

Philip Lehl, Kim Tobin-Lehl and Pamela Vogel in Small Mouth Sounds
Philip Lehl, Kim Tobin-Lehl and Pamela Vogel in Small Mouth Sounds
Photo by Gabriella Nissen

Six people are grouped together in a silent yoga retreat. Of all of them, only two make up a couple. There’s little talking; most character and plot development is conveyed through glances, movement across the stage, facial expressions. This is the setting for Small Mouth Sounds, brought to Houston by Stark Naked Theatre Company in a regional premiere, including a Friday performance. The one-act play mixes comedy with sadness and poignant moments.

There’s no television or social media; the characters are trying to deal with their concerns without distractions, director and actress Kim Tobin-Lehl says.

“These are extremely contemporary people. There was a time when people didn’t need to be unplugged,” says Pamela Vogel, who plays Joan, who is trying to work things out with Tobin-Lehl’s Judy.

“All come into the retreat with some kind of aching need, a big problem that they are looking for some kind of life answer to help them move through,” says Tobin-Lehl. “There is a guru that speaks and gives pieces of advice and talks about what each day’s journey is,” Tobin-Lehl says.

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Vogel points out that there is a script, this is not an improv evening, and there is a narrative arc. Tobin-Lehl says the play “allows you to get right down to the core of what communication is really about. It’s about connection to another person. And the base of connection is the thing that happens before you speak. It’s about looking at another person and seeing what they want based on what that communication is in their eyes and the way they reach out to you. Whether they touch you, whether they don’t. Those things are much more intimate than words.”

And just because there’s not a lot of speaking, there’s still action, she promises. “There’s fights. Just because you don’t talk doesn’t mean you don’t fight.” She predicts that the audience will become uniquely involved with the characters. “Because you have more freedom to personalize what the people are going through. Because no one is telling you. You get to decide what that person is; you get to decide what their problem is.”

7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; 7:30 p.m. Monday, September 21. Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring. For information, call 832-866-6514 or visit starknakedtheatre.com. Pay-what-you-can to $49. 

Lew Temple (right)EXPAND
Lew Temple (right)
Courtesy of 17th Annual Gulf Coast Film & Video Festival

Chameleon actor/producer Lew Temple — best known for roles in The Walking Dead (Axel) and the Denzel Washington-Chris Pine thriller Unstoppable (Ned Oldham) — is the honored guest at the 17th Annual Gulf Coast Film & Video Festival, where he will be presented with the 2015 GCFVF’s Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday at the Cascade Awards Presentation.

“I believe over the years we’ve gotten films from 43 or 45 states and ten to 12 foreign countries,” says founding director Hal Wixon. “It changes from year to year. This year we’re getting a lot of dramas and horror films. And comedies.” Categories include feature-length (up to 90 minutes), standard (up to 45 minutes), shorts (up to 15 minutes), and trailers and music videos (up to three minutes). The festival also has separate categories for student films.

“Some of these high schools and colleges, you can’t believe the quality. There’s one school that actually has location vehicles, and this is a high school,” says Wixon. “The equipment nowadays that they have is unbelievable. Some of them are so good that they actually win in the standard competition.”

Organizers were hoping to see drone shorts this year, a new category introduced to keep up with technology, but no entries were received. Houston Press readers: Your challenge lies before you.

The awards ceremony will be emceed by Ernie Manouse, and celebrity guests include actors Brandon Smith and Michelle Simmons, model Jen Barbeito and Broadway dancer Claudia Cox.

Screenings are at 7 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. There’s a Saturday Night “Live” Cascade Awards Presentation 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday.  Sundance Grill II, 800 Mariners, Kemah. Courtyard Marriott Hotel NASA/Clear Lake, 18100 Saturn. For information, visit gulfcoastfilmfest.com. $5 to $65. 

We wanted to know: How did a small theater in Baytown snag the rights to the world premiere of Quinn D. Eli’s Chasing Waves? Director Jim Wadzinski credits the theater’s participation in Texas Nonprofit Theatres, Inc.’s new play program. “Every two years, they essentially have a new play contest and they take submissions from all over the country. In the TNT system, if you choose a play, you have to present it in some way, not necessarily a full production.”

They began with a play reading last year, which was attended by the playwright, to this weekend's opening, which includes a Saturday performance. “The audience did not stop laughing. It was very gratifying. The comedy is in the fact that she’s sort of flailing around, trying to be happy,” Eli says of his main character, Colleen. “When we stumble around like that, we embarrass ourselves a bit. It’s a tricky balance trying to write a play. You don’t want to insult your audience; [you want to] write an intelligent play, with intelligent ideas. The best way to pull it off is to put a lot of humor in.”

“If you’re coming to the show, come with an open mind,” says Wadzinski. “This is adult entertainment; there’s language and situations that are adult. Don’t bring a ten-year-old.”

In the play, Colleen’s mother develops Alzheimer’s. “It’s not just memory loss; it’s memory replacement. She was a schoolteacher, and the perfect mom and the perfect wife, married at 31, still a virgin. Now she thinks she’s Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffanys.

“I think the script borders on brilliant, to be honest with you,” says Wadzinski.

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Through September 20. Baytown Little Theater at Lee College Performing Arts Center, 805 West Texas, Baytown. For information call 281-425-6255 or visit baytownlittletheater.org. $20. 

Joshua Bell
Joshua Bell
Courtesy of Houston Symphony

On Saturday, the Houston Symphony kicks off the 2015-2016 season with Opening Night with Joshua Bell. The  program features a selection of Gershwin, Bernstein and Stravinsky. An American in Paris opens the concert, while Suite from L’oiseau de feu (The Firebird) closes the evening.

In between the two is what’s sure to be the program’s highlight — the West Side Story Suite. William David Brohn wrote an arrangement of the work specially for Bell building on the violinist’s strengths, especially his dazzling fingerwork. The suite includes “Something’s Coming,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Maria,” “America” and “Tonight.” Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducts the Houston Symphony orchestra for this tuxedo-and-evening-gown evening.

7:30 p.m. Saturday. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana. For information, please call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $29 to $165. 

Connor Walsh and Melody Mennite in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's ManonEXPAND
Connor Walsh and Melody Mennite in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Manon
Photo by Amitava Sarkar. Courtesy of Houston Ballet

She is a beautiful young woman on her way to a convent in 18th-century Paris when she meets an impoverished student in a park and love ensues while they dance their way into each other’s hearts. Alas, any hopes of a happy-ever-after are soon dashed when she is prevailed upon to ditch the student, who wants to marry her, in favor of becoming the mistress of an extremely wealthy man.

The classic ballet Manon, choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, who had been artistic director of the Royal Ballet, will open the 2015-16 season for the Houston Ballet, including a Sunday performance. Aaron Robison, who was promoted to first soloist this year, will be one of the company members dancing the role of student and poet Des Grieux. While he is especially thrilled to be making his debut with this role (“I’m from the Royal Ballet School, and it’s a ballet that’s been on my wish list”), it presents some challenges. “He’s almost kind of a wimpy kind of soft guy,” Robison says.

“Naturally my physique, I’m very tall, I’m a quite big, muscly guy. I need to make myself look more vulnerable looking. I have to change my natural posture to do this type of role.” By the time Manon has been disgraced and sentenced to a Louisiana prison, Des Grieux has undergone several changes of his own. “By the end of the ballet, he’s murdered people and cheated at poker games. It’s very challenging and also very exciting.”

Look to Act II for some lighthearted moments, but realize that although Manon and Des Grieux are reconciled at the end, the reunion isn’t long or happy. Known for its beautiful costumes and music as well as its several dramatic pas de deux, especially the final swan pas de deux, MacMillan’s version of Manon has been performed successfully all over the world and now Houston Ballet has brought it back for a limited run.

7:30 p.m. September 12, 18 and 19; 2 p.m. September 13 and 20. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $20 to $197.

Margaret Downing and Susie Tommaney contributed to this post. 

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