Gunther Gebel-Williams is back And in the big cage. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, a.k.a. "The Greatest Show on Earth," comes to town with the world's greatest animal trainer in his only Texas appearance. The man and his beasts are the special guest stars of this three-ring extravaganza. Gebel-Williams will, of course, be in the center ring with his Royal Bengal Tigers; later in the show, his son, Mark Oliver Gebel, brings elephants and zebras to the center ring. Mark's act is the first in the history of the circus to have those animals perform together. (It's very modern, black and white and gray.) Little Mark Oliver first worked with circus animals at the wee age of two. No wonder he wanted to do something new.
The Discovery Channel is always showing what animals do, and then voice-over goobers explain that the animals are doing this "instinctively." As if they knew. Animals, like people, probably do many things just for the heck of it, or for lack of anything better to do. That's probably one reason little children, who may be frightened by the clowns, love the animals. Still, they do have instinctive behavior (the animals, I mean, though this probably applies to little children as well), and no one knows more about the characteristics of wild things than those who train them. The Gebels have trained themselves to work with their animals' innate responses. The circus is in town thru July 24. Group rates are available, as are special kids-saver tickets, and there'll be bilingual shows as well. The Summit, 10 Greenway Plaza. 629-3700. $10.50, $13 & $15.50.
Pretty Good Privacy and the Clipper Chip Contrary to what some people think, Libertarians don't spend all their time trying to legalize dope. Tonight's meeting of the Harris County Libertarian Party Second Thursday Supper Club features Paul Elliot, a software developer and member of the HAL-PC Users Group (Houston Area League-PC Users), a large and friendly group that's pretty much the Kiwanis of cyberspace. Elliot will be talking about the Clinton administration's plan to prevent privacy on the oft-discussed, rarely understood Infobahn and about a freeware program that ensures privacy. Elliot is a perfectly lovely person with two degrees and a normal job and so on, and here he will be holding forth on topics usually discussed by wild-eyed radicals and cypherpunks and other well-educated weirdos.
This whole Clipper Chip issue makes for some strange bedfellows -- Phyllis Schafly and Jello Biafra are both adamantly against Clipper. This is not an issue that follows party lines. That, and the fact that an astonishing segment of the population still thinks computers are voodoo and is unable to think about them at all, means the slew of popular media stories on Clipper and cryptography haven't made a dent in the national psyche. At best, people know they ought to have an opinion. At this little get-together, questions will be allowed. Even stupid ones. Those too shy to ask can eavesdrop. 7 p.m. Antonio's Flying Pizza (look for the fabulous neon sign), 2920 Hillcroft. For details call 643-3413. No admission charge, no food purchase required.
The Gondoliers (or The King of Baratia) The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Houston presents this tale of two kings and three queens. It's all great fun -- misplaced infants, abductions, mistaken marriages -- with the true magic of a Gilbert & Sullivan musical comedy. The production is also top-notch. The society puts many hours of pre-production work and rehearsal time into each show, as they have since 1952. (Their show that year was also The Gondoliers.) This time around they've got Alistair Donkin of the late D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which produced Gilbert & Sullivan for more than 100 years. Gilbert & Sullivan is certainly not the sort of high-brow offering that might intimidate; however, for those who want to be more in the know, Ira J. Black leads an informal discussion in the lobby 45 minutes before each show. Family entertainment -- and educational, too. ART$ENSE certificates will be accepted for this show. Opening tonight, 8 p.m. $10, $23 & $28.
Twiggy performs four times today The Summer Boat Show continues through Sunday. Everything from canoes no bigger than a surfboard to yachts fit for gazillionaires will be on display in the air-conditioned George R. Brown Convention Center. Seminars and clinics on the sporting life are scheduled throughout the weekend. Today only, however, Twiggy the water-skiing squirrel takes to the waves four times, instead of the usual three. Noon-10 p.m. George R. Brown Convention Center. Call 526-6361 for more information. $5, $2 children under 12.
Love Letters Inside every TV weatherman lurks an actor. Imagine if the converse were true: Tommy Lee Jones staring into the highs and lows map as though he beheld the Ark of the Covenant; Keanu Reeves, in a full-body shot calculated to show off his gorgeous thighs, droning on about pressure systems; Alec Baldwin whispering about fronts in his raspy, adenoidal voice. Actors who've made it should probably keep their day jobs. Seeing Houston's very own master meteorologist, Doug Johnson, enjoying himself as a stage actor, however, is an entertaining surprise.
Curiously, the vehicle for Johnson's current trodding of the boards is A.R. Gurney's Love Letters, which we seem to remember being staged recently with none other than Metro Traffic heartthrob Marty Ambrose. Is this some sort of secret broadcast-journalist initiation, or simply an evening of romantic entertainment? We leave it to you to decide. Doug Johnson and Del Ellison continue in this sentimental story of almost-lost love thru August 6. Performances are at 8 p.m. Saturday, with matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday. Curtains Theater,
722 Washington, 862-4548. $10.
Miss Schlitterbahn Some lucky babe will win this coveted title in the third annual Texas Bikini Invitational. Said babe, and two runners-up, will also win cash and prizes worth $5,700. The pageant will be held at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark's wave pool stage and is a free spectator event for guests of the park. Non-competitive babes in bikinis, or those uninterested in babes in bikinis, can enjoy the always cool spring-fed waters of the park's rides and pools. Park hours 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Texas Bikini Invitational 1 p.m. Schlitterbahn Waterpark, 400 N. Liberty, New Braunfels, (210) 625-2351. Children 3-11, $14.66; adults 12 and up, $17.91.
Sarah Hickman Homegirl and MTV fixture Sarah Hickman has another CD in the bins at your local music store. The tousle-headed, currently blond Hickman and her toothy grin will be in town to celebrate the release of Necessary Angels, more rocking folksy stuff with a heavy social consciousness. Hickman, even after her success guaranteed that she could have her pick of financially rewarding gigs, still does a lot of low-money, high-karma shows, singing for the disenfranchised and the suffering. Quite the cause-hound, she, and in keeping with that theme, this party opens with a smoke-free show.
These things really seem to be catching on. We shudder to think what this means. Hickman, despite her travels through AIDS hospices, cancer wards and under-funded homes for the aged, continues to have a positive attitude and an open mind. She is having a second, so-called "pub show," too, for old-fashioned lounge lizards. Advance tickets for reserved seating are available at the venue.
7 p.m. smoke-free; 9:30 p.m. pub show. McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 528-5999. $12.
This is Your Life, Bruce Pilkenton The nationally famous jockey comes home, now that he has a place to work at the Sam Houston Race Park. Pilkenton's friends, family and fans will gather at the Texas Longhorn Saloon for a party celebrating his return, hosted by Race Park announcer Rick Mocklin. For the innocent fans, the party promises prizes, drink specials and dance lessons. For Pilkenton, Mocklin has planned a This is Your Life rundown of his career on quarter horses such as Refrigerator, a career that includes the All American Futurity and Leading Rider titles.
As an Aldine High schoolboy, Pilkenton crossed the Sabine to ride at Delta Downs on weekends. After graduation, he worked in Ruidoso until he was good enough to don silks for a Grade 1 race. He went on to be a serious quarter-horse jockey. Now that we have the sport of kings in Texas, the top-ranked rider is glad to be back home. Welcome Pilkenton, and enjoy a generous buffet. The first 750 people who stop by will get free passes to the track. Invitations are required for admission; to get an invitation card, call 639-3955. 7 p.m. Texas Longhorn Saloon, 800 Northwest Mall. Free. Cash bar, with reduced drink prices.
Lunar landing's silver anniversary Meet a modern American astronaut! See a simulacrum of Sputnik! Feast your eyes on all manner of Soviet spaceware at this Space City salute to our big step in the space race, the safe return of our astronauts to Earth and, most important, to what the future holds. For five days the Astrodome Complex will be humming with Astro-events -- symposia, an expo, sports events and more high-tech toys than you ever dreamed possible.
What the future holds, one hopes, is an army of new Americans, a clear-eyed future generation with no math phobia and plenty of solid science education. The educational exhibits are devoted to that end. This new generation, with not a Beavis or Butt-head among them, will frolic through space in a brotherhood of 'nauts.
One of the highlights of the space expo is a model of the Mir orbital station, the Russian space station. Right now, the real thing is spinning through space, mostly serving as the site of biomedical studies concerned with long-duration space flight. Pilots stay up there for months. (One cosmonaut went up from the Soviet Union and returned to Russia.) In early spring of next year, our shuttle will dock with the Mir and 'nauts will be exchanged. This space carpool is exactly the thing shuttle designers had in mind....July 16-20. Astrodomain, Kirby at Loop 610, 567-8325. Call for price info.
New sculpture unveiling Brower Hatcher will be honored when his newest work, The Edge of Sky, is put on display as part of the ongoing downtown beautification. Two Allen Center, recently remodeled, is also part of the process.
Hatcher is an internationally known artist. The nature of this latest work, however, is not being revealed just yet. Suspense and the hope of surprise, it is thought, will bring people out. Frankly, anything new to do for lunch is always a big draw, whether one works downtown, in the Galleria area or in Tomball.
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See a new building, new artwork and enjoy a break in your noon-time routine. Noon, Two Allen Center, South Lobby, 1200 Smith, 651-1515. Free.
The Secret of Life on Earth We continue to suggest that good, hardworking Houstonians sneak off in the middle of a workday afternoon to the sepulchral cool and quiet of the Museum of Natural History.
Productivity and the sort of go-getter attitude we need for a better economy are enhanced by an interlude of enlightenment. This latest look at our ecosystem comes from Chris Parsons, one-time head of the BBC's natural history unit and producer of David Attenborough's Life on Earth series and the widely acclaimed The World Around Us series. Parsons, recognized the globe 'round as an authority on wildlife filmmaking, works this time with IMAX cameras.
The wildlife in this instance is plants: our little green friends who are busily pumping out oxygen and holding the soil in place and providing food. Patrick Stewart narrates this visually stunning film, loftily explaining the interdependence of all forms of life and using his round, pear-shaped tones to talk about really neat stuff like plants that eat bugs. The new IMAX film plays weekdays at 11 a.m., 1, 3, & 7 p.m. Museum of Natural Science, Hermann Park, 639-IMAX. $5, $3.50 children under 12.