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Free for All: J.R. Helton, Barber of Seville and the Insight/Out Festival

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J. R. Helton appears at Brazos Bookstore on Friday to discuss and sign his latest novel, Drugs. When it comes to making art about drugs, there is one crucial factor that divides the truly great works from the rest, and that is honesty. Over-sensationalize, and you risk the unintentional hilarity of Reefer Madness or worse, glorifying the lifestyle. Understate the situation, and you wander into Stupor-land. Simple, stark, sincerity elevated William S. Burroughs's Junkie to a classic, and Helton hopes the same will do the trick with Drugs. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's tragic, but Helton's wry, homegrown prose never fails to resonate.

J.R. Helton discusses and signs Drugs at 7 p.m. at Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet. For information, visit the store's Web site or call 713-523-0701.

Figaro can't help it -- he causes madcap mayhem wherever he goes. In Houston Grand Opera's The Barber of Seville, being presented on Saturday at Miller Outdoor Theatre, he's at it again, causing uproarious trouble as he sets out to help two young lovers, Rosina and Count Almaviva. There's love, mistaken identity, a test of wills and drunken soldiers -- everything a comedic opera needs. And more than that, there's glorious singing by Mark Diamond as Figaro, Lauren Snouffer as Rosina and Brendan Tuohy as Count Almaviva.

See The Barber of Seville at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 6000 Hermann Park Dr. For information, visit the theater's Web site or call 281-823-9103.

The folks behind the Insight/Out Festival are interested in the impact of art and performance on our interpretation of public spaces. To explore the issue, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston has commissioned composer Travis Weller to create "Seven in the Third: A Site-Specific Chamber Music Performance," being performed on Sunday. It's a haunting, melodic score written specifically around Project Row Houses, in Houston's Third Ward.

"We believe that doing live performance in a space can totally transform one's view of that space permanently," says Karen Farber, director of the center. "There are spaces that we might see every day, but having an encounter in those spaces will forever change those spaces for the viewer," she says.

"Each audience member is given a [headset]," says Farber. "They'll be able to hear the entire composition as they move from house to house, but when they are inside each row house, they'll have an intimate experience with just one musician from the ensemble."

"Seven in the Third" is performed at noon and 3 p.m. on Sunday at Project Row Houses, 2505 Holman. There are two other components of the festival, Scoot-In, a drive-in film screening on Saturday at Sesquicentennial Park, and Stephan Koplowitz: Taskforce -- Natural Acts in Artificial Water, a dance work, on Sunday at the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park. For information, visit the CWMCA Web site or call 713-743-5749.

Jef with One F contributed to this post.

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