Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Saint Joan and Spontaneity

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Dude. We were so pumped about this weekend's Sandcastle Competition (30th annual), and everything still might be all good. Send up the weather balloon and, if the skies are clear, head out to Galveston for some creative fun in the sun. There are a few other great outdoor events in the works, from Friday's Sizzling Summer Dance to Saturday's Heights Fun Run, to awesome discounts at Schlitterbahn for military and first responders. But, and if the weather prognosticators get it right, we're offering up six indoor activities that add up to a great weekend in the Bayou City. 

Mischa Hutchings, who plays Alice in Horse Head Theatre Co.’s Lidless, wants audiences to feel “enthusiastically uncomfortable” with the regional premiere of playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig’s story about a Guantanamo Bay interrogator. Fifteen years later, Alice has forgotten her time in the detention center, but one of her detainees hasn’t, and he comes searching for answers. “You really see the dark choices people made, and the aftermath,” says Hutchings. “And there is always aftermath. There’s a line about how everyone has to pay the piper, so how do each of these characters pay?” If the subject matter is challenging, Hutchings says playing Alice has been so as well. “She’s not your typical sympathetic female character,” she says. “She’s messed up.” She says it’s interesting to watch a character wrestle with her own anger issues. Hutchings is betting the audience will see that struggle — and embrace it — in what should prove to be a timely and provocative play. Horse Head is one of our 2016 MasterMind Award winners, and so this is one of our picks for Friday night entertainment.

8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and June 18. Through June 18. Fresh Arts Gallery, Winter Street Studios, 2101 Winter. For information, call 281-381-4166 or visit horseheadtheatre.org. $25. 

Sure, artist Matthew Ronay suffers from the “green weak” type of color-blindness, but thankfully, deuteranomaly doesn’t inhibit his ability to see bright colors. While the New Yorker did dabble with a death-based and monochromatic palette almost a decade ago, his new large-scale works at Blaffer Art Museum seem lifted from the phantasmagoria of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. There’s a familiarity to the pink, purple and yellow Organ Organelle, which the artist likens to a respiratory system. “He’s drawing on a formal vocabulary grounded in realism, psychedelia and biomorphism,” says Claudia Schmuckli, director and chief curator. “We talk about the mechanisms that refer more to the aspects of life that remain largely hidden: the way we function as bodies, the biological processes, the physical forces.” Schmuckli says that “Matthew Ronay,” the artist’s first major United States museum exhibition, contains four sculptures, a series of small reliefs and another large-scale installation: In and Out and In and Out, Again. Not much imagination is needed to appreciate the artist’s message in the latter, with the wall of blue and turquoise downward-facing phallic shapes and, at its base, a small platform with vaginal mounds and breast-like shapes, resting atop a cardiovascular system-inspired creature. We're psyched about Friday night's opening so we can check this out in person, plus there's a new exploration of light by London-based video artist Hilary Lloyd.

There’s an opening reception 7 to 9 p.m. Friday. Regular viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. University of Houston, 120 Fine Arts Building. For information, call 713-743-9521 or visit blafferartmuseum.org. Free.

It’s the oft-told story of Joan of Arc, the peasant girl with visions that got her into trouble with the Roman Catholic Church and earned her death at the stake. George Bernard Shaw’s 1923 play Saint Joan is not done onstage as much these days, but a New York City-based revival production by Bedlam Theatre Company caught the eye of Stark Naked Theatre Company co-founders Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin-Lehl, who decided to bring it to Houston. “It’s very simple. We don’t get in the way. It’s very stripped down. The play really focuses on the text and the story. We keep it moving, and you really hear the text and the words. It’s so beautifully written,” says director Eric Tucker (named 2014 Director of the Year by The Wall Street Journal). Tucker says Shaw’s works, like Shakespeare’s, last because his characters are both flawed and compelling. “Joan herself is such an amazing character. She’s infuriating, but she’s brilliant. She’s inspiring, but she can be petulant and childish and then turn around and lead the horses into battle. As an actor, you don’t have to fill in any blanks; it’s all there for you.” Be aware that the production breaks the fourth wall and engages the audience. But nothing embarrassing, Tucker promises. Sounds like a pretty safe bet for Saturday night drama.

7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and June 13 (pay what you can); 3 p.m. Sundays. June 8-18. Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. For information, call 832-786-1849 or visit starknakedtheatre.com. $15 to $49. 

If you’re a fan of creative theater but have the attention span of a hummingbird, or if you like to watch people try to survive uncomfortable situations, Spontaneous Smattering 8: The Eighth Smattering of the World might be the gig for you. The semiannual show features dozens of actors trying to pull off nine separate shows of 12 minutes each in two hours, with only 11 hours to read the script, treasure-hunt for costumes and props, and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Oh, and the house lights go off at the 12-minute mark, whether or not the play has finished. “It’s like watching a plane wreck, but with lots of campy and over-the-top antics,” says Christine Weems, who produces. Genres are random, as well as certain required props, and regardless of the experience of the actors and directors, even the best will be challenged. “The writers don’t write with a lot of regard for how they’ll pull it off,” Weems says. “It’s left to actors and directors to figure it out.” Afterwards, the audience members vote on Best in Show and Best in Genre. To help lubricate the audience, every member over 21 gets a free shot at the door, with beer and wine by (hopefully generous) donation. Ticket prices are discounted by a dollar for every canned good donation (limit five); but please, leave the tomatoes at home. Proceeds benefit the Houston Food Bank. It's for a good cause, and past Smatterings made us laugh till it hurts, so this is our other pick for Saturday night.

7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday. The Landing Theatre Company, 1119 East Freeway. For information, call 281-972-5897 or visit conemanrunning.com. $18. 

As time continues its forward lurch, the heroes of jazz — of late, Ornette Coleman, Joe Sample and Paul Bley — have fallen. Instead of posthumously worshiping the genre’s legends, Peter Lucas, curator of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s highly regarded Jazz on Film festival, says the event is a way to normalize and humanize some of the most creative musicians the planet has ever seen. “It’s pretty easy to have a distanced respect for great jazz artists, but film allows us to experience the music in context and to relate to artists as individual human beings. I think that’s the best celebration of a creative life,” says Lucas. “For instance, I’ve been a fan of Ornette Coleman’s music for a long time, but when he passed away last June, it struck me more deeply for having recently seen two Coleman films we’d shown.” The fourth annual edition of the monthlong program, which the Houston Press named “Best Film Festival” in 2015, presents seven jazz-centric films, including a 35-millimeter print of John Cassavetes’s Shadows, which features the music of Charles Mingus; Too Late Blues, also by Cassavetes, and All Night Long, two rarities from the early 1960s; and The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, a film that pieces together the photographer’s still images and music recordings made at his Beat-era New York City apartment. John Cassavetes’s rarely seen second film about jazz pianist John “Ghost” Wakefield and his predatory agent Benny make our list for classic culture this Saturday.

7 p.m. Saturday and June 3, 10-11, 17-18 and 24. 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7771 or visit mfah.org/film. $9. 

Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1869 semi-autobiographical novel has been turned into a musical, with lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, music by Jason Howland and book by Allan Knee. The core story remains the same, focusing on four very different sisters and the family’s experiences while their father is away serving as a chaplain during the Civil War. The original novel broke several stereotypes about gender and identity and showed off themes that were considered wild and brazen at the time. Now, in AD Players’ updated production of Little Women: The Musical, the story still addresses those relevant ideals. “This show is so accessible, real and different than people might expect. Jo wears pants and wants to be a boy and writes blood-and-guts stories about combat. It plays against all the stereotypes we have about people,” says Joey Watkins, who directs. He also says it’s an interesting look into a different time period. “It’s fun to watch a family exist in a world before we had technology. This story is ultimately about love, family and connection.” This one caught our attention, and it's our recommendation for Sunday afternoon.

2:30 p.m. Sunday. Continuing. 8 p.m. Fridays and June 4 and 11 and July 2 and 9; 2:30 and 8 p.m. June 18 and 25; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays. June 3 through July 10. 2710 West Alabama. For information, call 713-526-2721 or visit adplayers.org. $40. 

Holly Beretto, Sam Byrd, Margaret Downing, Steve Jansen and Josef Molnar contributed to this post.

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