One is the story of a no-name criminal who is hiding out not only from two different crime bosses but from charges of kidnapping and murder as well. The spotlight is on actor Santry Rush in The Good Thief as his character becomes the prey, rather than the hunter, leading him to review his life in Conor McPherson's one-man show.
In Faith Healer, the other play being staged on alternate nights by Stark Naked Theatre Company, the issue of how a life can be told from different perspectives is at the fore. Faith Healer is our choice for Friday. Philip Lehl plays Frank Hardy; his wife, Kim Tobin, plays Frank's wife, Grace; and John Tyson, who was with the Alley Theatre Company for 14 years as an actor and sometime director, is Frank's manager, Teddy. Tyson, who is directing both plays, says wryly: "It's a lot of Irish."
Tyson has done The Good Thief with Rush before in another venue, and thought it would pair well with playwright Brian Friel's Faith Healer -- something he performed 20 years ago. Rush even wrote to McPherson with a question about a plot point and got a nice note back, he says, which didn't answer the question and encouraged him "to explore it the way you want to explore it," Rush says. Tobin says both plays have beautiful, lyrical writing in them. Regular attendees at Stark Naked's home stage at Spring Street Studios will be surprised to learn that they're bringing the audience even closer for these shows. "We've made the space even more intimate. It's tighter in an intensely intimate experience," Lehl says, likening it to sitting across a kitchen table from someone.
See Faith Healer at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Mondays, 8 p.m. Fridays, and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. See The Good Thief at 7:30 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. February 14 and 15. 1824 Spring. For information, call 832-866-6514 or visit starknakedtheatre.com. Pay-what-you-can to $20.
The Mark Morris Dance Group, on of our choices for Saturday, is known for its artistry, technical expertise and a long tradition of performing to live music. Coming to Houston courtesy of the Society for the Performing Arts, the Mark Morris Dance Group is mounting a program that includes The Argument, set to Robert Schumann's Five Pieces in Folk Style; Festival Dance, performed to a Johann Nepomuk Hummel piano trio; The Tamil Film Songs in Stereo pas de deux, set to contemporary Indian music; and A Wooden Tree, set to Ivor Cutler's surrealistic folk music. Joining the dancers will be musicians from the MMDG Music Ensemble: Colin Fowler (piano), Georgy Valtchev (violin) and Wolfram Koessel (cello).
See The Mark Morris Dance Group at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 713‑227‑4772 or visit spahouston.org. $23 to $83.
On Saturday, we also recommend The Nina Simone Project . Nina Simone wasn't just a singer; she was an innovative songwriter who blended musical genres, and she was a trailblazing civil-rights activist. When legendary choreographer Dianne McIntyre was first approached about creating The Nina Simone Project, an evening-length dance work about the singer, she decided to focus on the woman behind the name. Though Simone is known for her iconic work in soul and jazz, McIntyre begins the program with the singer's early folk renditions, from the time Simone spent singing in the bars and pubs of Atlantic City. From there, the audience is taken on a nine-song journey documenting Simone's emergence as a popular artist and her subsequent exile abroad.
Stylistically speaking, McIntyre's choreography is an excellent pairing for the members of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, who are performing the work here. (The company is returning to the Talento Bilingüe de Houston stage courtesy of MECA after a successful 2013 appearance.) In order to convey the musical diversity of Simone's discography, it makes sense to utilize a company with an equally diverse movement vocabulary. McIntyre incorporates elements of jazz and modern dance to illuminate Simone's fascinating and turbulent life.
The Nina Simone Project is a DBDT audience favorite, and it's not hard to see why. Aside from the dancing, the score includes some of Simone's most cherished recordings, including "Come by Here," "Cotton-Eyed Joe," "Backlash Blues" and "I Sing Just to Know That I'm Alive (Trinidad)." The show also includes vocal narration and video projections.
See The Nina Simone Project at 7 p.m. Saturday. 333 South Jensen Drive. For information, visit meca-houston.org. $15.
Mozart's Don Giovanni, one of our choices for Sunday, has a typical start for an opera: a big fat death scene. It's the middle of the night and Don Giovanni, having just taken advantage of a young woman, Donna Anna, gets into a sword fight with her father. A complete cad, Giovanni kills the man, leaving a now twice-traumatized Anna to mourn both her father and lost virtue. Cassandra Black shares the role of Anna with Michelle Johnson. Black, making her debut as Anna here, tells us she enjoys the rather tragic role. "[Anna] gets to sing some really difficult things," she says. "Donna Anna is one of the many, many, many victims of Don Giovanni's womanizing. She starts the show pretty down in the dumps. She's been taken advantage of and Giovanni has murdered her father. Her first aria is a vengeance aria trying to get her fiancé to go after Don Giovanni. Her second aria is trying to get her fiancé to not leave her; she's pretty much mistreated him throughout the show."
Black says that despite its dark tone, the opera includes a bit of humor. "There are some serious moments and some light moments. Of course, when Giovanni's seducing a woman, it's not going to be all fire and brimstone. The music takes multiple turns; it's really quite varied. I think it's one of Mozart's best pieces."
Don Giovanni runs at 7:30 p.m. January 31, February 1, 6, 7 and 8, 2 p.m. February 2 and 9. Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Boulevard. For information, call 713-861-5303 or visit operaintheheights.org. $32 to $59.
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Is Paul Kremer making art with his photography series "Great Art in Ugly Rooms"? Or is he commenting on pop culture? Chances are it's a little of both. The solo exhibition of Kremer's GAiUR photography series at the Brandon is also one of our choices for Sunday. The idea is simple: Kremer takes famous and heavily revered works of art and appropriates their images to hang in low-rent settings. Works by artists from Michelangelo to Grant Wood are seen in Laundromats, studio apartments with cheap carpet and other such digs. "The secret is to use some real pictures and fake the rest," Kremer says via email. One choice work you'll see is Cindy Sherman's photograph Untitled #96, pictured by Kremer as the visual centerpiece among a row of clean white washing machines and mustard-colored walls. Sherman's Untitled #96, which shows a young woman in an orange plaid skirt against a similarly colored linoleum floor, broke auction records when it sold at Christie's in 2011 for nearly $4 million to New York dealer Philippe Ségalot.
"Great Art in Ugly Rooms" is on display 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays. Through February 16. 1709 Westheimer. For information, call 713‑522‑0369 or visit thebrandoncontemporary.com. Free.
Margaret Downing, Adam Castañeda and Jef with One F contributed to this post.