A daughter returns to her parents' home for Christmas and reveals she is about to write a memoir -- a bit of unwelcome news that further strains already tense relations among her relatives, both liberal and conservative. As Jackson Gay, director of the Alley Theatre production of Other Desert Cities, one of our choices for Friday, explains it, playwright Jon Robin Baitz (think Brothers & Sisters on TV) has put together a really good dysfunctional-family drama set in 2004 that is funny and also an activist-kind-of play about politics.
The parents are old-school conservatives whose best friends are Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Daughter Brooke (Alley company member Elizabeth Bunch) is a liberal Democrat, and her aunt is "a raging old-school liberal Democrat," Gay says. Her brother is the one person who's mostly apolitical, and he refuses to enter into any of the family's fights. All is complicated and affected by the earlier suicide of another brother, an antiwar activist, and the family decisions that immediately followed his death, including the parents' move to Palm Springs in a sort of self-exile, Gay says.
"This play shows the love that can exist in a family, and also the hurt." Attendees expecting a stereotypical send-up of conservatives or liberals will be surprised, says Gay, adding that there is a plot twist at the end that will leave you questioning your previous assumptions. The scenic design by Takeshi promises to reinforce the desert isolation (the title of the play comes from a highway sign reading "other-desert-cities" next to a sign indicating Palm Springs). Richard Bekins appears as patriarch Lyman Wyeth, returning to the Alley after a 25-year absence, and Linda Thorson as Aunt Polly checks in after being gone for more than three decades.
8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Through February 2. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713‑220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26 to $80.
Allen Funt had Candid Camera in the 1960s. Years later, Ashton Kutcher continued the televised practical joke tradition 21st-century style with Punk'd, which launched in 2003. Now there's truTV's Impractical Jokers featuring antics by the Tenderloins. The target of this particular improv-cum-sketch-comedy show, which comes to Bayou Music Center for a one-night stand on Friday, is not innocent bystanders but the cast members themselves.
"We describe the show as an upside-down prank show," troupe founder James "Murr" Murray says, sounding far more like a contributor to the Oprah Winfrey Network than the YouTube-y, reality-based truTV. "The joke is on us, instead of on the public."
Prior to their Houston show and performances in Dallas and Austin spotlighting The Tenderloins' sketch-comedy strength, Murr et al. plan to film segments for Impractical Jokers at various H-Town locations. "We're going to be filming all around Texas for a full week," he warns, scouting "classic Texas locations and Texas activities -- things that, as New Yorkers, we know nothing about." Where will you be shooting, we ask. "It's a hidden-camera show! We don't want fans showing up!" Murr says.
8 p.m. Friday. Bayou Music Center, 520 Texas. For information, call 713-230-1600 or visit bayoumusiccenter.com. $35.
Thousands of athletes will hit the ground running on Saturday for the 2014 Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon (& 2014 ABB 5K). There are a few course changes that should make for more prime spots from which to watch the race. Runners from around the world compete in the races of varying distance. At stake is a $40,000 first-place payout for each of the men's and women's champions. A total of $259,000 in guaranteed prize money will be awarded to the top finishers.
8 a.m. Saturday. George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida de las Americas. For information, visit chevronhoustonmarathon.com. Free to spectators.
Our choice for Sunday is the Houston Family Arts Center production of Lorraine Hansberry's family drama A Raisin in the Sun. In 1950s Chicago, the Younger family anticipates the arrival of a large life insurance check following the death of the family patriarch. The African American Youngers have big plans for the money, including buying a large home that happens to be in a white neighborhood. They don't know that their soon-to-be neighbors intend to stop the move at any cost.
Terri Renee White appears as Lena "Mama" Younger, the stalwart head of the family; Monique Holmes is Beneatha, her idealistic adult daughter who dreams of becoming a doctor. Jeff Brown is her adult son, Walter Lee, and Tamekia Jackson is his wife, Ruth, both weary of the overwhelming task of raising a young son in the two-bedroom apartment they all share. Sedric Willis directs while Teri Clark produces.
3 p.m. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Through February 2. 10760 Grant. For information, call 281-685-6374 or visit houstonfac.com. $12 to $20.
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Sunday's screening of Sophie Fiennes and Slavoj Zizek's The Pervert's Guide to Ideology is a semi-sequel to the duo's last outing, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. Like its predecessor, Ideology features a series of lectures by intellectual rock star Zizek psychoanalyzing Hollywood films. In Zizek's view, Titanic was a message to the upper class about the acceptability of mingling with the lower classes in a time of great need. Meanwhile, the shark in Jaws represented America's fears of Nazi Germany. Were all these interpretations simply delusions of Zizek's hyperactive and bombastic mind? Well, maybe. Actually, probably. But there's no denying that Pervert's Guide to Ideology gets viewers rethinking story lines and symbolism in even the most innocuous of films.
5 p.m. Sunday. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7300 or visit mfah.org. $9.
Margaret Downing and Nancy Ford contributed to this post.