An evening of mystery and suspense The first of several, in fact. A gaggle of well-known mystery writers are in town, signing books and reading and hanging out at the Sisters in Crime writers retreat at the Doubletree Post Oak (where there'll be a Murder, My Sweet Literacy Autographing Friday from 6:30-10 p.m.) This evening, Edna Buchanan, Carolyn Hart, Jay Brandon, Connie Shelton and Trish MacDonald Skillman are among the writers presented to the public. 7-9 p.m. BookTronics, 5370 Westheimer, 624-4000. Free.
Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You Once again, we see the effect of Catholicism on contemporary popular culture. Much like The Blues Brothers, Sister Mary Ignatius is about a later-in-life meeting between a teaching nun and some former students. Christopher Durang's Obie Award-winning satire doesn't include a lengthy car chase, and the Theatre LaB production doesn't have cameo appearances by Aretha Franklin and Cab Calloway, but the show is still a genuine hoot and has a nun with a gun. Moreover, tonight's show is a Houston Press Romance Event. All the theater seats are free, and all attendees will receive a free 50-word romance ad -- in fact, attendees must turn in their ads at the door in exchange for admission. Theatre LaB has a bar, and a softly lit sidewalk outside for intermission mingling. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for this event, the show continues through September 30. Theatre LaB, 1706 Alamo (off the 2100 block of Houston Avenue). The theater is disabled accessible, with secure, lighted parking. For more information on the Romance Event, call 624-1414. For more information on Sister Mary Ignatius, call 868-7516. Free.
SAM Fest (Summer Acoustic Music Festival) Hustle up, acoustic fans, this is your chance to witness a lever harp competition and not one, but two dulcimer competitions -- one for players of hammer dulcimers, the other for aficionados of the Appalachian dulcimer variety. There will also be a Texas State Championship Autoharp contest, the winner of which will receive a fancy new Oscar Schmidt autoharp and paid entry to the national autoharp competition in Kansas this September. You can simply enjoy the concerts or learn to play folksy instruments from tin whistles to bowed psalteries. Such instruments will also be sold at the festival. Tie-dyes and buckskins will be worn. SAM begins with a workshop at 8:30 a.m. and continues through Saturday evening. St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 1515 Hillendahl (near I-10 and Wirt). For more information, call 583-1090. $15-$25, depending on how many (if any) workshops one attends.
Days of mystery and suspense Even a non-sleuth could figure out that with a gaggle of mystery writers in town, Murder by the Book is hopping. Basically, all the writers in town for the Sisters in Crime convention will stop by sometime this week, and today is the second in a four-day Author Extravaganza, with more than 25 authors in the store and signing copies of their books. Frankie Y. Bailey, Eleanor Taylor Bland, E.W. Count and Barbara D'Amato will be in the store and signing. The real mystery is, how can Murder by the Book hold 25 authors and their fans? And where will people park? Oh well, love (love of the genre) will find a way. It all begins at 10:15 a.m. Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet, 524-8597. Free.
Member of the Club: Reflections on Life in a Racially Polarized World Author Lawrence Otis Graham, a Princeton grad and Wall Street lawyer, quit his upscale job and became a busboy -- a busboy with eyes and ears open -- at an all-white country club in Greenwich, Connecticut. What he saw and heard led to a memorable New York magazine story (and considerable embarrassment for the club members), and now has resulted in a book of essays about Graham's experiences not only in Greenwich, but in America in general. Graham will be reading from and signing his book this evening, and maybe he'll have time to relate a few stories about how the Greenwich club's members had fits, just fits, when they found out about Graham's expose. 6-8 p.m. Nia Gallery and Bookshop, 7725 West Bellfort, 729-8400. Free; the book is $25.
Keep watching the skies With the kind of heat we're having, one needs to keep quiescent during the day and find a hobby that works at night. Drinking has its drawbacks -- expenses, health risks -- but astronomy is healthful and relatively cheap. The members of the Houston Astronomical Society, just ordinary folk like you and me, offer a series of seminars sharing their passion with the public. The society will explain how to peer at Jupiter and Saturn, and how to locate deep space objects such as the Whirlpool Galaxy. The society will also give little talks about telescope buying; how to figure out which scope has the right strength and price for each individual's space-viewing needs. And all are invited to attend the society's meeting (meetings follow the seminars). 7 p.m. University of Houston, Science and Research Building, entrance no. 14 off Cullen. For more information, call 529-2549 or 568-9340. Free.
ViennaFest Is that Bob Lanier in lederhosen? Who knows? Anything and everything can happen at the ViennaFest, including a yodeling contest for the entertainment of tender children. Two wacky, wonderful days with food, fun and theme foods (sauerbraten, sauerkraut and Austrian beers and wines). Polka bands and dancers entertain prior to the concerts. Fun begins at 6:30 p.m. Symphony concert at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow. The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, 363-3300. $7-$10.
The Jeff Dunham Show Peanut is one of those obscene and deeply strange puppet-things, like H.R. Pufnstuf or the Hamburgler, that Americans occasionally take to. Peanut is, vaguely, a baby-faced purple orangutan with lips, teeth and an outie bellybutton -- hardly a dapper fellow like Charlie McCarthy, or even as well-dressed as Mortimer Snerd. Nonetheless, ventriloquist Jeff Dunham is being hailed as an Edgar Bergen for our times. It may well be that part of the reason is that ventriloquism is not a happening art form at the moment. (Ventriloquism, which is basically creepy and weird -- as anyone who has ever watched Dead of Night can tell you -- is never overweeningly popular. The Vent Haven Museum in Kentucky, isn't nearly as popular as the Circus World Museum in Wisconsin.) Another part of the reason, though, is that Dunham and his dummies put on a pretty good show. He'll also appear with grumpy old Walter, who told Johnny Carson to stuff it, and Jose Jalapeno on a stick. Two shows tonight and tomorrow. 7:30 and 10 p.m. tonight and tomorrow. Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, 869-5483. $18-$22.
1995 Houston International Jazz Festival Today's other music festival, with a different kind of music in a different sort of place -- high-toned jazz at the Omni Hotel. A dozen artists from three countries make tonight's opening reception (7 p.m.) and poolside jam session (9 p.m.-1 a.m.), and the Mayor's Jazz Brunch Sunday. Local favorites Bubbha Thomas and The Lightmen, three-time Grammy-winner Ramsey Lewis, Brazilian songstress Tania Maria and the Summer Jazz Workshop All-Stars will appear at the three Omni events and at the free festival tomorrow in Sam Houston Park. Omni Hotel, 4 Riverway. For tickets or information, call Jazz Education Inc., 227-8706. Tonight's poolside jam, $30; Sunday brunch, $65.
Bridal Extravaganza Those girls who went to the weddings of June brides and caught bouquets, and even those girls who went to the weddings of June brides and didn't catch bouquets but did wrestle to the ground the women who did and wrench the flowers away, can plan their own weddings, and possibly win a honeymoon or Neiman Marcus shopping spree, at this two-day expo. Everyone is welcome, "including the groom!" 10 a.m.-6 p.m. today; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida de las Americas. For information, call 995-9206. $6.
Painting the Town A quiet, quirky little documentary "based on the life and fantasies of Richard Osterweil." Osterweil, ersatz painter and part-time coat checker and cabdriver, has achieved a minor measure of fame for his skill in the fine art of party crashing. And not just parties, mind you: he also sneaks into the funerals of the rich and famous. (Osterweil reports being the first to feed at Malcolm Forbes' funeral. He also talks about having been this close while Liz Taylor ate a plate of whipped cream, but not at Forbes' service.) Osterweil, with his cat-shaped eyes and a mild Long Island accent, is a wonderful storyteller, and he has proof that some of what he says is true. 7:30 p.m. today and 7 p.m. Sunday. Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515. $5; $4 seniors and students.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum It's not every day that you can pack up the kids and drive out to the Island for a musical comedy based on the writings of Plautus (254-184 B.C.), yet thanks to the valiant efforts of the Lone Star Performing Arts Association, today it's possible. Through August 13, this madcap comedy about ancient Rome will be presented in the Victorian splendor of The Grand 1894 Opera House. Sunday matinee, 2 p.m. The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice Road, Galveston, (800) 54-SHOWS. $11-$40.
JCC basketball camp with Mario Elie Five full days with a world champion Houston Rocket, for kids about to enter grades one through eight. Elie will help kids get better at every aspect of basketball. The camp will be from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. daily. Jewish Community Center, 5601 South Braeswood, 729-3200, ext. 3239. $205.
POPS in Space The 100-member Sagemont Church POPS Orchestra is ready with its fourth annual concert, and what a concert it is. The show has a space theme -- music from Star Wars and E.T. and selections from The Planets -- and multimedia effects ... and "surprises." At the Sagemont Church, they say, "We do church ... differently." 7 p.m. today and tomorrow. Sagemont Church, 11323 Hughes Road, 481-8770. Free.
A Day in the Life of Houston's First Lady This month, our lady of no azaleas is the guest speaker at the Downtown Houston Association's luncheon. According to the association, "Mrs. Bob Lanier will let us in on 'A Day in the Life of Houston's First Lady.'" However, there is no question and answer period scheduled, so we'll just have to listen to what Mrs. Mayor wants to talk about. Brown bag lunches welcome; box lunches available for $6. Noon. Two Houston Center, auditorium, level P-2, 909 Fannin. For more information or reservations, call 658-8938. Free.
Todd Rundgren Hello, it's that strange looking bony guy, '70s survivor Todd Rundgren. Back in the days of tie-dye, Rundgren was more of a balladeer than anything else, and he's still very much a songwriter. But he's also a musician who stays one step ahead of the latest technology. Rundgren is a techno-junkie, and a skilled geek at that, but not because he's needed studio tricks and electronic frills to compensate for losses in other areas. The man has the most melodious voice in the history of American pop music -- he could make fine music by simply singing a cappella alone on-stage (his own songs or standards). Rundgren, however, likes to test new toys, to see what the latest cyber tools for the music-making trade can really do. In his capable hands, the state-of-the-art bells and whistles are more than gimmicks. And if you don't give a fig for light shows and electronic music, the guy's got soul. 8 p.m. Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue, 869-
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