The Five Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Evil Puppet, Supernova & More

We honored a few musical greats last weekend in Houston, and the reverence continues with a salute to the music of Marvin Gaye this Friday on the hill, while that evil sock puppet, Tyrone, wreaks havoc over at the Alley. On both Friday and Saturday, NobleMotion is bringing illuminated choreography to the stage with Supernova. This Sunday afternoon, nine performing arts organizations are throwing their doors wide open with backstage tours and workshops, and you're invited. Even though the Pokéstops are gone from Discovery Green, the trainers will be out in full force Sunday night at Station Theater.
A foul-mouthed, evil sock puppet takes over the arm of the kid who assembled him, spewing forth lewd and lascivious language. Not exactly what the church youth group and its leader had in mind, but Tyrone has arrived. The Tony-nominated Broadway play Hand to God comes to the Alley Theatre, and among its many amazing aspects is that it was written by playwright Robert Askins, a Baylor University graduate. Askins’s play was performed on and off Broadway in New York and toured the Midwest, and is ongoing on the West End in London, but this is the first time it returns to its roots: Askins grew up in Cypress and has placed his play there. In some ways, Hand to God mirrors his own life; his father died when he was 16, and his mother had a public ministry. In the play, Jason’s father has died and his mother, Margery, is the youth leader. Like the playwright, his character Jason is having trouble handling his father’s death. “I had a lot of difficulty dealing with that grief. I had a lot of authority issues. All of those things swirled together to create a devil puppet that expresses a young child’s grief.” Why puppets? “Puppet’s funny. Puppet’s weird. Puppet’s a puppet,” he replies. “There’s something great about Tyrone’s hyper-masculine bullshit and his dark version of the world. By shrinking it into a puppet, it becomes a little funnier.” The play, which shifts between tragedy and comedy, is in two acts with a prologue and an epilogue. “We tried to take the epilogue out at one point, and it didn’t work. You wanted Tyrone back again,” Askins says. “I love the theater, but a lot of the times I would see some things and think that’s enough dinner parties in Brooklyn. How do you do something that picks ’em up and makes them laugh and makes them cry and makes them gasp? How do we really yell it? And I think people listen to that. I think a lot of the time, people come to the theater to hear somebody scream. Plus it’s a story about family. Who doesn’t love a family story?” He makes a good point, and there's a lot of buzz around this one, so we're making it one of our recommendations for Friday night drama.

8 p.m. Friday. Continuing 7:30 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 615 Texas. Through September 18. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit $35 to $68. 

Rolling Stone named Marvin Gaye’s 1971 studio album What’s Going On “Album of the Year.” With songs about war, anger, violence, injustice and the need for more love, his story remains almost prophetic about the troubles of modern-day society. Ferguson, Missouri, resident and singer Brian Owens, inspired by the recent events in his hometown, celebrates the life, legacy and importance of Gaye’s music through his show, What’s Going On: The Marvin Gaye Experience, making this our other pick for Friday night on the hill. “He’s an American treasure. This show puts a spotlight on the genius of Marvin Gaye as a social artist and his ability to capture that late-’50s to early ’70s social construct,” says Owens. Hear all the great hits: “Can I Get A Witness,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “You’re All I Need To Get By,” “Let’s Get It On” and “Got To Give It Up,” all backed with a full band and guest singers. Expect tons of audience interaction, as this is not just a performance but also a full re-creation of what it would have been like to sit in the crowd at one of Gaye’s concerts.

8 p.m. Friday. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive. For information, call 281-373-3386 or visit Free. 

A lighthearted conversation between lighting artist David Deveau and NobleMotion Dance Company co-artistic director Andy Noble sparked a lightbulb moment that, in turn, led to Supernova, a dance work whose star shines so bright that dancers wear tinted goggles for the show’s explosive ending. The luminous piece premieres along with another NobleMotion creation, Pentimento, for which designer Liz Freese has created a set of hanging tulle. “We project the dancer back upon themselves through the tulle,” says Noble. “You’re looking at a ghostly projection with an actual physical body.” In essence, says Noble, the dancer is in a duet with herself. Named Best Dance Company in 2015 by the Houston Press, NobleMotion reprises several audience favorites including the metaphysical Spitting Ether, the atmospheric Lorelai’s whisper and the filial-themed dance work Quietly on my father’s back. We're looking forward to Supernova this Saturday night, and they’re handing out sunglasses to the audience for this one.

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-315-2525 or visit $27 to $37. 

Before Houston’s 2016-2017 arts and culture season cannonballs into a local theater, concert hall or art museum, Theater District Houston takes its opening plunge. Kathryn McNiel, the district’s chief executive officer, says that the 23rd Annual TransCanada Theater District Open House is much more interactive than ever before. “Guests can learn how to conduct with the Houston Symphony, attend an introductory ballet class, try a tango with Susana Tango or practice stage combat with the Alley Theatre.” And everything is free. In total, nine resident performing arts organizations are offering programs, tours and workshops that range from pop-up street performances to Houston Ballet’s onstage rehearsal of The Sleeping Beauty. The event acts as a teaser for the upcoming arts season for the district, which includes Houston Grand Opera’s Faust, the Houston Ballet’s Jubilee of Dance and Da Camera’s presentation of Cecile McLorin Salvant. “[It’s] a chance for anyone to spend an hour or an afternoon experiencing the magic of performance art,” says McNiel. This season opener is fun for all ages, putting it on our "must see and do" list for Sunday afternoon.

Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas; The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby; Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana; Revention Music Center, 520 Texas; Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-658-8938 or visit Free. 

For your average Pokémon trainer, catching ’em all is a full-time job. There’s no room in your poké-packed life for a family (they’ll just slow you down), friends (who just don’t “get it”) or, least of all, improv comedy. Despite this, Station Theater might have found the exception. “We’ve done Cagematch before,” says owner Jessica Brown. “But we thought, what if the teams were related to Pokémon Go? It just snowballed from there.” The chart-topping augmented reality game, which has amassed an estimated 100 million downloads since its launch, has been a game-changer for the 20-year-old anime franchise. “As soon as the game came out, I knew instantly there were a lot of cool possibilities for what we could do with it,” says Brown. At the start of each Cagematch: THE GYM — Improv Comedy Meets Pokemón Go, the team that’s in control of the gym (Mystic, Valor or Instinct) gets to decide the rundown of that night’s events. “We actually encourage people in the audience to play Pokémon Go during the show, because if the gym switches hands between sets, teams could potentially gain or lose improvisers,” she says. Let's get the most out of this weekend, and close out Sunday by catching 'em all, comedy-style.

7 to 8:30 p.m. Sundays. Through September 4. 1230 Houston. For information, call 832-786-0413 or visit Pay what you wish. 

Sam Byrd, Margaret Downing, Katricia Lang, Steve Jansen and Vic Shuttee contributed to this post.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney