Press Picks

january 4
Piaf This saucy play, penned by respected British playwright Pam Gems, explores the life of France's most infamous chanteuse. Edith Piaf came from a less than genteel background; the illegitimate daughter of an acrobat father, she was abandoned by her street singer mother when she was a wee child of two and raised for several years in her grandmother's whorehouse. Then Piaf herself began singing in the streets. At 19 she was discovered and went on to become an internationally renowned performer, and yet she never found happiness. Her story is the stuff of drama, as was proven in 1978 when the Royal Shakespeare Company premiered this slightly fictionalized recreation of her life in Will's old stomping grounds of Stratford-upon-Avon. In this country, Piaf is sometimes called the French Judy Garland. It's a shortsighted comparison. True, both women were intense, highly talented and fatally neurotic petite brunettes. However, although they were petite and brunette in a similar way, each was intense, highly talented and fatally neurotic in her own unique way. And Piaf never sang with Mickey Rooney. Still, the singer's story offers an actress the chance to go way over the top. Equity actress Alissa Alban has the lead role; we suspect she runs with it. Tonight is the last preview; tomorrow is the official opening with a champagne reception. 8 p.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday. Through January 27. New Heights Theatre, 339 West 19th Street, 869-8927. $10, preview; $15, Friday and Saturday; $12, Sunday.

january 5
Boat Show Dad has played Santa for the family; now it's his turn to get the gifts. The "big four-0" Houston International Boat, Sport & Travel Show fills all 19 acres of the Astrohall's floor space with outdoor gear -- from the latest in reels to Gerber knives to yachts -- that can make manly men drool. Everything new in boating will be on display, and the show will also have a pack of exhibits and seminars. Another feature is the NewsRadio 740 KTRH Stop & Dock, a hideout for men playing hooky. Stop & Dock has recliners, TVs, snacks, drinks and fax machines and phones for those who are supposed to be working. In fact, the only thing we can see that's missing is Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel of extravaganzas past. Through January 14. 5-10 p.m. today; noon-10 p.m., Saturdays; noon-9 p.m., Sunday; 1-10 p.m., Monday-Friday. Astrohall/Arena, Astrodomain, Kirby at Loop 610. For tickets, 526-6361. For info on seminars, access the Web site ( boatshow). $5; $2, children under 12.

Inferno: Shopping in America The Houston Center for Photography celebrates the close of the holiday shopping season with an exhibit of pinhole camera photos by Warren Padula. We are, after all, children of the malls, and this display of fascination with (and horror over) the acquisitive urge is just more proof. Padula says, "If Dante were writing today, he'd borrow Wal-mart's architecture as his central metaphor." You, the casual art fan looking for an exhibition, may not agree with Padula's heady enthusiasm, but most of us will admit that malls have a distinctly surreal appeal. Also, in Gallery X is a black-and-white series by Cuban-born photographer Luis Mallo. "Passengers" is a collection of portraits focusing on New York City subway riders, in particular on their hands, which Mallo sees as hallmarks of identity. Opening and reception tonight with both artists, 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Mallo gives a gallery talk at 1 p.m. Houston Center for Photography, 1441 West Alabama, 529-4755.

january 6
How to get rid of Christmas cards Dow Chemical has organized a program to collect old holiday cards, cards which will be given to kids who will use them as art supplies. Children at Gregory Lincoln Elementary and Sanderson Elementary and children who visit the Wesley Community Center will cut out pretty pictures and colored shapes and then make new cards -- get well, birthday, Father's Day, you name it. Used and unused cards will be accepted. Cards collected 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Bellaire Recycling Center, 4400 Edith (near the corner of Newcastle and Beechnut) and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at Dow Chemical Company, 400 West Sam Houston Parkway South (at Deerwood, between Briar Forest and Memorial Drive). For more information, call 978-3665.

Cookie time Girl Scouts are taking cookie orders as of today. And even though, as we learned from Wednesday Addams, Girl Scout cookies are not made from real Girl Scouts, they're undeniably tasty. Sign up for your year's supply of Thin Mints and Caramel deLites (they freeze well). Cookie booth sales won't start until February 17. For more information, call the cookie hot line, 523-8100.

Bridal Extravaganza Think the holidays are a stressful time for families? Hah! Try organizing a wedding. The extravaganza has everything the modern bride needs "to plan the wedding of her dream" (including a baby-sitting service). Hundred of companies will be showing their stuff, bridal fashion shows will showcase the latest in nuptial wear and each bride who registers at the show gets a goodie bag full of coupons and discount cards -- and a free copy of Linda Miller's Houston Bridal Resource Guidebook. 10 a.m. -6 p.m. today; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. George R. Brown Convention Center, Hall A & B, 1001 Convention Center Boulevard. For more information, call 995-9206. $7; $5 advance tickets available at Kroger stores.

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Edith Sorenson