The Top 5 Things to Do in Houston this Weekend: Shakespeare Festival, Space City Con, Jazz Fest and More

Seth Gilliam as Antony and Brandon Dirden as Caesar in Antony and Cleopatra
Seth Gilliam as Antony and Brandon Dirden as Caesar in Antony and Cleopatra
Photo Courtesy of the University of Houston

This year's Houston Shakespeare Festival kicks off on Friday and its offerings of Antony and Cleopatra and As You Like It give a Booker T. Washington graduate, Brandon Dirden, his first chance to return to Houston in two years. A winner of an OBIE award last year for his star turn as Boy Willie in a New York City revival of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson, Dirden will play Julius Caesar and then Duke Frederick/Corin on alternate nights. Dirden's wife, Crystal Dickinson, will also do the tragedy-to-comedy switch, playing Cleopatra and then Celia in the annual festival produced by the University of Houston.

Although Dirden is a veteran of the Georgia Shakespeare Festival and the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival, he hadn't performed Caesar in this play before, and the rehearsals alone changed his mind about the historic figure. "I thought he was just a master manipulator and hungry for power. These last couple days, I've learned there was so much more to him. That maybe he isn't as maniacal as I thought he was. He is a man who is very passionate about his immediate family and the people he considers his family. And he is a man who has been wounded. He loves his sister dearly; he loves Mark Antony dearly. When Mark Antony's behavior is proven to be less than honorable, that really hurts."

Check out our interview with Houston Shakespeare Festival actor and former Houstonian Brandon Dirden.

While he describes As You Like It as "just delightful, all about love and hope," it's clear Dirden also wants Houston audiences to embrace Shakespeare's historic tragedy. "I think the opportunity doesn't come along very often to see Antony and Cleopatra. It's a big, huge, epic play."

See Antony and Cleopatra at 8:30 p.m. on August 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 and As You Like It at 8:30 p.m. on August 3, 7, 9 and 11. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Drive. For information, visit the theater's website. Free.

Upcoming Events

Houston is rapidly becoming a geek paradise thanks to the parade of consistently improving pop-culture conventions, among them this weekend's Space City Con, our second pick for Friday. "We're just trying to make sure that our hometown, a larger city, a broad geographical city, has the 'galactic' reach of con events," said founder George Comits. "[That] people know they can come here to Con to make a party of our geek festival."

This year's guest list is impressive. Sylvester McCoy, the seventh Doctor Who and recently Radagast the Brown in the Hobbit films, will be making an appearance (we're sure fans are set to pump him for stories from DW's 50 years or on what we can expect from the rest of Peter Jackson's newest trilogy). Jewel Staite of Firefly, Goth superstar author Gabrielle Faust and more Star Trek cast members than you can swing a Bat'leth at will also be on hand. SCC is big on attracting organized fan groups as well as stars. Global level officers of the 501st Storm Trooper Legion are also expected to be in attendance this year.

Space City Con runs noon to 7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Houston Marriott Westchase, 2900 Briarpark Drive. For information, visit the event's website. $20 to $45.

Jacob Perkel as Tom in Tea and Sympathy
Jacob Perkel as Tom in Tea and Sympathy

Robert Anderson's poignant drama Tea and Sympathy, one of our choices for Saturday, might have premiered on Broadway in 1953, but David Rainey, director of the current Back Porch production, says the issues it discusses are as fresh and relevant as ever. "It's the story of [Tom,] a young boy who's going through an awkward time in his life," Rainey says. "He doesn't fit in; he never has. And he's being persecuted because some people suspect him of being a homosexual. It's set in the 1950s, but it's really pertinent now. There are strong parallels between that time and now." Jacob Perkel appears as Tom, with Joanne Hubbard as Laura, the headmaster's wife and Tom's strongest ally, much to the headmaster's disgust.

One of the qualities that drew Rainey to the play was its lack of hard, fast answers for the audience. "There's a lot of ambiguity. As far as whether Tom is or isn't gay, I think people will draw their own conclusions, but they might draw different conclusions based on what they see. And there are some questions about other characters in the play, about whether or not they might be gay and are hiding it or maybe haven't even recognized it yet."

Asked if he was tempted to update the 1950s setting to contemporary times, Rainey says no. "I tend not to play with [the story] too much. Some directors are very good at doing that, but I tend to look at what the playwright wrote and stick to that. In this particular play, it would be difficult to re-conceptualize it or modernize it. What we can do is to tell a clear story in such a way that a modern audience can get it."

7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through August 18. Main Street Theater -- Rice Village, 2540 Times Blvd. For information, call 713-524-6706 or visit the theater's website. $30.

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