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Best Virtual Bets: Korean Film, Islamic Art, and Dickens Two Ways

David Rainey as Scrooge in the Alley Theatre's virtual production of A Christmas Carol.
David Rainey as Scrooge in the Alley Theatre's virtual production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by John Carrithers
It may not be beginning to look a lot like Christmas – when does it ever in Houston? – but you can certainly tell it’s the holiday season by the virtual offerings around the city. With new spins on holiday classics, plenty of carols, and a few points of counterprogramming, there’s a lot to hold your attention this coming week whether you’re a Kris Kringle or a Scrooge.

Familiar seasonal productions will be available in abundance this month, but how about partaking in something new, like a world premiere radio play? This past Tuesday, Stages opened Holiday at the Hope’s: A Christmas Mixtape from real-life husband and wife duo Ben Hope and Katie Barton Hope. The two will be familiar to Stages regulars from productions like Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash and Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie, but instead of turning to the likes of Guthrie or Cash, the couple have pulled inspiration from their experience of buying a home for the first time. Expect to hear about traditions, listen to stories and maybe even sing along from your living room to songs guaranteed to spread a little Christmas cheer. Holiday at the Hope’s will be available on demand through December 13. Tickets can be purchased here for $25.

In the spirit of the season, 4th Wall Theatre Company will kick off a month of free holiday offerings this Thursday, December 3, at 7:30 p.m. with the first episode of Holiday Story Time. 4th Wall Co-Artistic Directors Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin-Lehl have recruited local actors – as well as Santa Claus himself – for the filmed storytelling series, which begins with Eboni Bell and Juan Sebastián Cruz regaling viewers with two O. Henry tales: “The Gift of the Magi” and “A Chaparral Christmas Gift.” The four-episode series will continue on Thursday nights in December with Bell, Cruz, John Raley and Courtney Lomelo taking turns on lesser known holiday works by authors such as Lucy Maud Montgomery, Richmal Crompton and John Kendrick Bangs. Each 40-minute episode will be available for a month after its premiere through 4th Wall’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

For those of us whose interest in Korean cinema was piqued after Parasite's Oscar win, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will open their second annual Korean Film Days festival on Friday, December 4. During this year’s six-film festival, virtual cinema goers will meet a girl on her high school’s baseball team who dreams of making it to the pros in Choi Yun-tae’s Baseball Girl; a man trying to keep a failing zoo afloat with a problematic lack of animals in Son Jae-gon’s “amiably goofySecret Zoo; and celebrity chef Im Ji-ho, with whom Park Hye-Ryoung spent a decade documenting for The Wandering Chef. Also in the lineup are Kim Yong-hoon’s “smart port-city neo-noirBeasts Clawing at Straws; Hong Sang-soo’s “gently sardonicThe Woman Who Ran; and Lucky Chan-sil, Kim Cho-hee’s dedication “to anyone pursuing a dream.” Single film tickets are available here for $8 and $30 festival passes are available here. The festival streams through December 13.

click to enlarge Raven Justine Troup as Mrs. Fred in the Alley Theatre's virtual production of A Christmas Carol. - PHOTO BY JOHN CARRITHERS
Raven Justine Troup as Mrs. Fred in the Alley Theatre's virtual production of A Christmas Carol.
Photo by John Carrithers
What happens when you’re trying to stage A Christmas Carol and realize you have no Scrooge or Tiny Tim? Well, we’re going to find out on Friday, December 4. COVID-19 may have forced the Alley Theatre to cancel their usual production of A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas, but instead of skipping it all together, they’ve decided to pivot from the Michael Wilson adaptation to Doris Baizley’s, a play-within-a-play born from “the idea of presenting a Victorian English story in a Renaissance Italian style.” And yes, the play-within-a-play contends early with a bit of an actor shortage. The Alley’s Artistic Director Rob Melrose says the digital production, filmed from the homes of the actors, is “the most unique and intimate production of A Christmas Carol that we have ever done.” The free production, which can be viewed with closed captioning in Spanish or Vietnamese, will be available through December 27. You can register here.

The Islamic Arts Festival moves from its usual home in Spring to cyberspace this year when the Islamic Arts Society opens the seventh annual edition on Saturday, December 5. The two-day celebration of Islamic arts will feature the work of more than 40 artists in a digital gallery for browsing and buying purposes as well as demonstrations from artists and calligraphers, panel discussions and interactive sessions on things such as henna tattoos and Ebru (Turkish paper marbling). You can attend the festival by visiting the Islamic Arts Society website, Facebook page, or YouTube channel. And take note: Mayor Sylvester Turner will inaugurate the festival on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

If you happened to catch Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein when it came to town last year, then you already know. But if you’re not familiar with the Chicago-based performance troupe, they’ve been said to do the seemingly impossible: Be “daring and innovative” and capable of landing “a sucker-punch to the soul.” Be “tender and delicate” and “wow with startling wizardry.” Be “rooted in theater’s oldest traditions” and “break the form apart.” Now, just in time for the holiday season, they’ve turned the “singularity of the artistic technique” they’re known for to Charles Dickens. In Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol, a woman stuck at home during lockdown attempts to put on her late husband's Christmas Carol puppet show for her family over Zoom. But that’s just the start. Society for the Performing Arts will present the production on Saturday, December 5, at 7 p.m. with additional shows on December 12 and 19. Single tickets are available for $20 and a house hold stream can be purchased for $35.

click to enlarge Vanessa Williams closes out the Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway series this Saturday. - PHOTO BY GILLES TOUCAS
Vanessa Williams closes out the Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway series this Saturday.
Photo by Gilles Toucas
This Saturday, December 5, at 7 p.m. the Emmy, Grammy and Tony-nominated Vanessa Williams will conclude the Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway series – and we'll spare you a "save the best for last" reference. The approximately 90-minute virtual concert will be streamed live from The Shubert Virtual Studios in New Work and proceeds will go to our own Theatre Under the Stars, which is one of about 20 nonprofits benefitting from the series. Williams told WKBW-TV Buffalo, whose hometown Shea's Performing Arts Center joins TUTS as one of those nonprofits, that she’s “happy to be able to bring my artistry to people, to maybe be a distraction from the mayhem that has been 2020.” You can count on Broadway and pop songs, as well as personal stories and an audience Q&A. Digital passes can be purchased here for $30, which will get you access to the show and on-demand viewing for 72 hours.

Fun fact: Though closely associated with the holidays, George Frideric Handel annually performed his work Messiah – often thought of as the “quintessential English oratorio” – not during the Christmas season, but around Easter. The Houston Symphony will gift us with this standard of the Baroque (and now Christmas) repertoire on Saturday, December 5, at 8 p.m. during A Baroque Christmas. Conductor Nicholas McGegan will lead the Symphony and guest vocalists in arias from Messiah and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, as well as in music from Arcangelo Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. For those that can’t make it to one of the socially distanced concerts at Jones Hall this weekend, you can purchase a ticket to Saturday’s livestream here for $20.

click to enlarge John-Mark McGaha (pictured) will join Patrick Thomas for An Evening of Dueling Pianos and Christmas Carols with Patrick Thomas & John-Mark McGaha. - PHOTO BY AMY BOYLE
John-Mark McGaha (pictured) will join Patrick Thomas for An Evening of Dueling Pianos and Christmas Carols with Patrick Thomas & John-Mark McGaha.
Photo by Amy Boyle
A.D. Players is gifting us a second chance this Sunday, December 6, at 6:30 p.m. when they welcome back Patrick Thomas and John-Mark McGaha, this time for An Evening of Dueling Pianos and Christmas Carols with Patrick Thomas & John-Mark McGaha. McGaha, who wowed during October’s run of Signed, Sealed, Delivered: John-Mark McGaha Sings Stevie Wonder, and Thomas, who you may remember from the first season of The Voice where he impressed with his rendition of Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying,” both participated in A.D. Players’ virtual After Dinner Affair back in August. Those who missed them and those who want to come back for seconds can enjoy a full program of songs including some Christmas favorites and a Christmas carol singalong. Register for the free virtual event here, and be sure to get your requests ready, because the pair will be accepting them in real time.

Deck the halls virtually on Tuesday, December 8, at 6:30 p.m. when Discovery Green and Houston Grand Opera present the third annual Carols on the Green. Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte and percussionist Jesus Pacheco will join HGO for the free holiday sing-along. The program, pre-recorded, will be broadcast online on Discovery Green’s website and their Facebook page. You can also register here to be sent a link when the program is available to watch.

DACAMERA’s virtual series with the Menil Collection will continue on Tuesday, December 8, at 7 p.m. with Cy Twombly and Music. The recital, filmed in the Menil’s Cy Twombly Gallery, will feature Claire Chase, who the Los Angeles Times called “both a force of musical nature and a force of the flute.” The filmed program includes Felipe Lara’s three-minute “musical appetizerMeditation and Calligraphy, which Chase has called one of her “favorite things to play”; Marcos Balter’s Descent from Parnassus, a “musical response” to Twombly’s The First Part of the Return from Parnassus; and Suzanne Farrin’s The Stimulus of Loss, its title from an Emily Dickinson-penned letter. Also included are Erik Ulman’s Lacrimosa, “his memorial to Twombly” and Pan, a duo for flute and violin. Following the concert, you can join a virtual artist talk with Ulman, Chase and DACAMERA Artistic Director Sarah Rothenberg. Register for the free event here.

Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company, in collaboration with Esurient Arts, will open the third round of their Femfest Houston reading series, Black Women’s Voices, on December 9. The plays, curated by Esurient’s Dabrina Sandifer, will begin on Wednesday, December 9, with Onyx Espri’s full-length play Roots of a Lily, which will be available through December 12. On December 11, Mary McCallum’s Hunger in Paradise will open for a run through December 14. Four shorter plays will go live from December 14 through 17, including McCallum’s Six Triple Eight, The Tender Fish by Stephanie McNeal, The Water Rumbles in Limbo Time by Marissa Joyce Stamps, and Cages by Kenya Fashaw. All the plays will be available from December 18 to 20 when the round concludes. You can register for a free or pay-what-you-can ticket here.
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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.