5 Best Things To Do in Houston This Weekend: Assassins and Ringling Bros.

Director Rachel Landon has loved Stephen Sondheim’s musical Assassins since she was a teenager. “I found it in a bin at Half Price Books,” she said of the recording, “and it blew my mind." It's our pick for this Friday at Obsidian Theater.

Directing a production of it became an item on her personal bucket list — an item she’s just crossed off. Landon leads the current production of the musical, and says it’s a dream come true for her.

To be sure, it’s an odd little show, a blending of real-life historical figures, actual assassins and more mythical characters, such as The Balladeer, a commentary-personification representing the American dream. Together they present a darkly comic, deeply thoughtful commentary about society and history and how differences can explode into rage and violence. If any of that might sound a touch too close for comfort in the wake of recent events, it’s not lost on Landon.

“We’ve been discussing recent events, the Supreme Court ruling on marriage, the church killings and bombings, how it leaves people raw on either side of the issues,” Landon says about talks she’s had with the cast and crew. “We’re a violent society. But you know, that’s the thing about America — we go on. I think that’s one of the messages of the show. America pulls together and goes on.”

So, if you want a little thoughtful blended into your musical comedy, this is the show to see. Landon correctly calls Sondheim a game changer, rewriting what a musical can be. And she gives a shout-out to the talent in Houston, calling her cast one of the best she’s worked with. “Houston is such an incredible place for theater,” she said. “It says something great about us that we can do this show with these great actors here.”

Presented by Standing Room Only Productions. 8 p.m. this Friday. Continues 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. July 11 and July 19. Through August 1. Obsidian Theater, 3522 White Oak. For information, call 713-300-2358 or visit $37.50.

Comedian Sinbad faced two giant obstacles when he started his stand-up career in the mid-1980s — he didn’t know any jokes and he didn’t use profanity onstage. Comedy Central apparently overlooked those issues when it named him one of the “Top 100 Stand-up Comedians of All Time.” So, it seems, do the thousands of fans who flock to his performances every year, as many of us will this Saturday night in Galveston.

After some 30 successful, scandal-free years in show business (well, mostly scandal-free; there was that time the IRS came after him for $8.3 million in back taxes), Sinbad still doesn’t know any jokes and he still doesn’t use profanity in his stand-up routines. The “no jokes” aspect is pretty easy to understand. When he’s onstage, Sinbad doesn’t parrot jokes with ba-dum-dum punch lines. He talks to his audience. And each performance is slightly different. Sure, he tells stories about his growing up with strict and stuffy (he says) parents who didn’t get his humor. He discusses relationships and race issues, what he knows about women. He also talks about what’s been happening in his life lately, everyday stuff that he just experienced. That’s new to every show.

Sinbad riffs on people in his audience. A lot. (Please don’t be late to his show because he will, from the stage, ask you what was so important that you couldn’t get to the theater in time.) If he sees a guy who in 2015 is wearing a 1990s shirt or a couple in the front row who look as if they had a fight in the car on the way to show, that leads to a 20-minute “discussion” with the audience. That’s new to each show, too.

And with regards to his profanity-free shows, early on he wanted to be able to perform a show his straitlaced parents could attend without being embarrassed. The habit continued.

8 p.m. Saturday. The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice, Galveston. For information, call 800-821-1894 or visit $30 to $98.

Why not make “Discovery!: Three One-Woman Shows — Rita Blasser, Constance Forsyth and Karen Lastre” a group show, we ask Sarah Foltz, gallery director for Williams Reaves Fine Art. “These are artists whose work doesn’t necessarily go together, but we wanted to review each of them. Three one-woman shows gives us the opportunity to focus on each of these artists individually.” Their opening reception is our other pick for this Saturday.

Blasser (1926 to 2014) was a longtime Dallas area teacher and printmaker. Forsyth (1903 to 1987) was a printmaker and teacher at the University of Texas. Lastre, an abstractionist, continues to work in Houston.

The works seen in the show come from different historical times and are from different phases of each woman’s career, yet there is a dialogue between them. “What most spoke to me was being able to juxtapose some of Rita Blasser’s prints with Karen Lastre’s large, color-filled compositions. The works really echo each other even though they were created 40 years apart. They didn’t know each other, but they were really looking at some of the same masters and forebears of American art. In both their works, you see a play with color and shape and form,” said Foltz.

There’s an opening reception 6 to 8:30 p.m. this Saturday. Lastre, the only one of the three artists still living, has an artist’s talk from 2 to 4 p.m. July 25. Gallery talks regarding Rita Blasser and Constance Forsyth are also on the schedule. Regular viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Through August 8. 2143 Westheimer. For information, call 713-521-7500 or visit Free.

There are lots of big stars to see at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey: Legends, including animal trainer Alexander Lacey, who performs with several majestic lions and tigers (he kisses a couple during his routine!); several “hairialists,” women who spin through the air hanging from their hair; and the China National Acrobatic Troupe, which has flipped, jumped, rolled and tumbled its way around the world. They will share the stage this Sunday with the Torres Family, three generations of daredevil motorcyclists; the Tuniziani Troupe, thrilling trapeze artists; and Tchalabaev Cossack Troupe, acrobatic equestrians. There are also magical animals such as a unicorn, a woolly mammoth and a winged horse (hey, it’s the circus — magic happens at the circus).

It’s a pretty impressive lineup. But with all due respect to the hairialists, unicorns and other performers, we have to admit we like the clowns the best. The Ringling Bros. Clown Alley troupe features a dozen funny and famous clowns, all of them experts at the art of frivolity and comedic hijinks. Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson and his sidekick, Paulo Dos Santos, who’s a bit of clown himself, are in charge of all the commotion.

Performances are scheduled at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. this Sunday. Continues Wednesdays through Sundays; times vary. Through July 26. NRG Stadium. For information, call 800-745-3000 or visit $15 to $110.

Macbeth, William Shakespeare’s meditative tragedy on the evils of ambition, will be reimagined this Sunday with Irish characters in New York at the turn of the 19th century for this joint production by Houston Theatre Company and the University of St. Thomas.

“You have to find a setting that matches the internal struggles of the play and the actions of the characters,” says director Joseph “Chepe” Lockett. “Among Shakespeare’s plays, it is so direct and so personal in its imagery. It’s all about those everyday acts — eating, drinking, sleeping…those basic needs of human life. At the same time, it is this blisteringly fast, passionate play.”

This production of Macbeth includes traces of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and BBC America’s Copper. Sir and Lady Macbeth are Irish bootleggers in 1870s in Five Points, Manhattan. Lord Banquo is a woman, similar to Gangs of New York’s Hell-Cat Maggie. King Duncan is Don Duncan, head of a crime syndicate.

Lockett attempts to honor Macbeth’s heightened language and its earthy imagery. “Shakespeare speaks the way we all wish we could speak. We’ve all had that argument where you’re walking down the staircase afterwards and you think, ‘Oh! If I’d only said that.’ We portray these people in as natural a fashion as we can. The witches are really presented as normal folks meeting outside the drugstore almost.” Except in this case, “Can I bum a cigarette?” becomes “Can I bum some eye of newt?”

3 p.m. this Sunday. Continues 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Through July 19. University of St. Thomas, 3910 Yoakum. For information, call 713-478-9421 or visit $10 to $14.  
Olivia Flores Alvarez, Holly Beretto and Katricia Lang contributed to this post.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney