Best Virtual Bets: Nuns, Shakespeare, and New American Voices

ROCO will world premiere a new work from composer Reena Esmail during their season-ending concert titled Flamenco.EXPAND
ROCO will world premiere a new work from composer Reena Esmail during their season-ending concert titled Flamenco.
Photo by Rachel Garcia
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This Tuesday, April 27, is National Tell a Story Day, and do we have a range of stories to recommend in this list of best virtual (and socially distanced) bets. Some stories are brand new, like those featured in the Landing Theatre Company’s New American Voices Playwriting Festival, and some are centuries old. Yes, we’re looking at you, William Shakespeare. And some stories, the storytellers themselves won’t even know what they are as they tell them. Keep reading to see the best stories you can find in Houston this week.

After conscientiously refusing to complete his mandatory military service, the Iranian government forbade playwright Nassim Soleimanpour to leave the country. During his isolation, he wrote White Rabbit Red Rabbit in 2010, a play that went viral for its unique directives – no director, no set, and a different actor (who reads the script for the first time on stage) for each performance. On Thursday, April 22, 4th Wall Theatre Company will open a virtual run of Soleimanpour’s wildly popular theatrical experiment on Zoom, with nine different actors tackling the work, including award-winning actress Laura Linney and 4th Wall co-artistic director Philip Lehl. Tickets are $30 (except for Linney’s show, those are $50 for obvious reasons) and can be purchased here. White Rabbit Red Rabbit will close May 2.

It’s William Shakespeare’s 457th birthday, and while you could certainly break out one of his classic plays to read in celebration, allow us to recommend instead a special birthday edition of BYOBard, presented by Main Street Theater in partnership with Rienzi, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston house museum. On Friday, April 23, at 7 p.m. you can watch a group of local actors reading from works such as Henry V, The Tempest, and King John, as well as get a look at the Second Folio, a posthumously published book of Shakespeare’s works “from which all modern versions of Shakespeare derive.” There are only 250 copies of the almost 400-year-old book still in existence, and one just happens to live in the Rienzi library. You can register for the Zoom-based celebration here. Free, but donations are always appreciated.

On Friday, April 23, at 8 p.m. The Menil Collection will screen Joe Penney’s Sun of the Soil, a “26-minute short performative documentary” about Malian artist Abdou Ouologuem’s exploration of an almost forgotten king of the Mali Empire, Mansa Musa. The film, which strikes “a three-way balance between poetic lyricism, organic art, and pristine cinematography,” will be shown for free on the Menil’s front lawn with seating available on a first come, first served basis (and following COVID safety protocols). Bring a picnic blanket or lawn chair, or you can stay home and watch the film, which will also be available to view online from Saturday, April 24 through Wednesday, April 28. More information on the virtual screening will be posted here.

Following the screening, on Tuesday, April 27, at 1 p.m. the Menil’s Curator of Collections Paul R. Davis will welcome Penney, Ouologuem, and writer Ladan Osman for an online discussion about the making of the film and the history of, and myths surrounding, Mansa Musa. The Zoom link to join the program will be available here the day of the event. Free and no registration necessary.

Conductor Brett Mitchell will lead ROCO in their season-ending concert Flamenco.EXPAND
Conductor Brett Mitchell will lead ROCO in their season-ending concert Flamenco.
Photo by by Peter Lockley

A chance encounter with a Minnesota nun outside a women’s state prison sent composer Reena Esmail down the road to creating “The History of Red,” a brand new work based on a poem by Linda Hogan that will premiere during ROCO’s season-ending concert Flamenco on Saturday, April 24, at 5 p.m. Conductor Brett Mitchell will lead the ensemble not only in the premiere of Esmail’s work, featuring soprano Kathryn Mueller, but a second world premiere, “Princesa de la Luna,” from Quinn Mason. Also on the program are works from Samuel Barber, Errollyn Wallen, and Carlos Surinach, whose “Ritmo Jondo, Flamenco for Orchestra,” will be accompanied by dancers from Solero Flamenco. You can stream the free concert, performed live from The Church of St. John the Divine here, here, or here.

Back in March, Opera in the Heights announced their return to in-person performance, and it’s finally here. On Saturday, April 24, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 25, at 4 p.m. Oh! will present Highlights from Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Marriage of Figaro at White Oak Music Hall. Artistic director Eiki Isomura will lead the Oh! Orchestra and about 20 singers in audience favorite scenes like the “mad scene” from Lucia and the fourth act finale in The Marriage of Figaro. Instead of individual tickets to the outdoor, socially distanced concerts, you can purchase a grid, which is a reserved area that fits up to six guests for $125 to $250. You can get tickets to Saturday’s show here or Sunday’s show here – and note they’re going fast.

The Pilot Dance Project makes its return to presenting in-person dance this weekend with Houston-based choreographer Ashley Horn’s “Tether,” with guest choreographer and Pilot Dance Project Director Adam Castañeda. “Tether” will feature six company artists and two sections created by Castañeda with 15 members of the greater Houston community. Performed at Live Oak Friends Meeting House, the outdoor, socially distanced event is scheduled for Saturday, April 24, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 25, at 6 and 8 p.m. Though seating will be provided, guests are welcome to bring their own folding chairs or blankets. You can purchase a $20 ticket here.

The Landing Theatre Company’s 10th New American Voices Playwriting Festival returns on Saturday, April 24, for the first of two weekends celebrating the winners of their new play competition. Four new plays – written by Eugenie Carabatsos, Rachel Bykowski, Spencer Huffman, and David Davila – were chosen from more than 300 submissions to be read online, followed by Zoom-based talkbacks for each. For the first time, each play has also been assigned to a design team tasked with creating real designs, envisioning what the play might look light in local venues like Main Street Theater, the Alley's Neuhaus Theatre, the Smith Stage at The Gordy, and The MATCH’s Match Box 1. The designers will present their creations after each talkback. You can register for each play (and the two industry panels that are also part of the festival) for free here.

Denise Fennell stars as Sister in Stages' production of Late Nite Catechism Las Vegas Sister Rolls the Dice.EXPAND
Denise Fennell stars as Sister in Stages' production of Late Nite Catechism Las Vegas Sister Rolls the Dice.
Photo by Claire Logue

Stages welcomes Houston’s favorite nun to their virtual stage this Wednesday, April 28, when they open Late Nite Catechism Las Vegas: Sister Rolls the Dice. Written by Maripat Donovan and Marc Silvia, the one-woman show (starring Denise Fennell) will see Sister put her experience with church bingo to use as she plans a Las Vegas night. The interactive Zoom performances, broadcast live from The Gordy, are scheduled for Wednesday through Friday nights at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. through May 23. You can purchase a ticket for $25 here.

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