Press Picks

September 11
Hapgood Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, produced in 1967, set his career as a playwright in motion, and he hasn't looked back since. Hapgood, a suspense thriller, takes place during cold war London in the days of British intelligence and counterintelligence. Rebecca Greene Udden, Main Street Theater's founding artistic director, plays Elizabeth Hapgood, master spy and single mother, who must find the double agent while keeping her own life going steady -- and any single mother will tell you that's hard even for non-spies. Opens tonight at 7:30 p.m., and runs through October 12. (See Thrills, Theater for other show times.) Main Street Theater at Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose, 524-6706. $12-$17.

Ballroom Dancing If you're spending Thursday evenings cradled on the couch watching TV, eating ice cream and grunting to your loved ones, Town & Country Mall might have the medicine you need. Just the wonderfully exotic names of these dances, like the rumba and the cucaracha, will start your imagination down the road toward romantic evenings of slow, giggling whispers. Get up and actually make the moves these dances require, and you and your sweetie are bound to see that couch in a whole new light. Singles and couples of all ages are invited to learn the steps in classes taught by Dance Arts. Partners not required; dance classes meet every Thursday through September. 7-9 p.m. Town & Country Mall, 800 West Sam Houston Parkway North, Mrs. Fields's Court, 468-1565. $10.

September 12
Weekend of Texas Contemporary Dance Put ex-Houston Ballet dancers together with members of Fly, an all-male urban dance troupe, and throw in some Tracy Chapman tunes. You'll get what's on the dance program tonight at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Producer Christina Giannelli, resident lighting designer for the Houston Ballet, has brought together this eclectic group of performers and choreographers and made an evening of dance that promises to be unusual, strange and perhaps even beautiful. Rocking chairs and a giant teeter-totter become metaphors of risk and balance during one dance. In another piece, entitled "Diary of a Mad Domestic," housework becomes an urgent dance, and dance becomes funny (or so the choreographers hope). 8 p.m. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive, 520-3290. Free.

False Prophets (or Just Dang Good Guessers) One reviewer described this weird but intriguing performance as a "vanguard hoedown," and so it is: a combination of music, art and old-fashioned Southern storytelling, blended by a wildly diverse foursome. Amy Denio has composed avant-garde music for John Cage and Italian national radio; jazz saxophonist Jessica Lurie has played with everyone from the West African group Mii Shae to the Billy Tipton Memorial Sax Quartet; and the Shaking Ray Levis are two guys with homemade instruments and stories influenced by their Tennessee homeland. Expect the four to collaborate on tales such as "Confederate General Robert E. Lee vs. the Vegetarians." Tonight and Saturday at 9 p.m. The Orange Show, 2401 Munger, 228-0914. (In case of inclement weather, performances will be at DiverseWorks, 1117 E. Freeway.) $13; $11, seniors and students; $10, DiverseWorks and Orange Show members.

Van Cliburn Gold Medal Winner Anyone who's listened to KUHF this past month has probably heard the recordings of past winners of the Van Cliburn Gold Medal Award. The contest, held only every four years, is considered one of the most prestigious of the piano-playing world, the Olympics for young concert pianists. Jon Nakamatsu is this year's winner, the first American in 16 years to receive the gold medal. He did so by playing Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto so well that one critic called the performance "the most thrilling musical moment" of his life. Tonight, at the opening of the Society for the Performing Arts season, you too can know this thrill; Nakamatsu's recital program will include music by Muzio Clementi, Chopin and Franz Liszt. 8 p.m. Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 227-ARTS. $20-$31.

The Ensemble Theatre Opening Gala The Ensemble Theatre opens its season in a brand-new space. And they are so rightfully excited about it, they are spending the weekend celebrating. Tonight, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, performers galore will be on hand to get the space off to a good start. At 8:30 and 10:30, Broadway singer/dancer Ben Vereen will take center stage. Meanwhile, a group of Alley Theatre actors will perform on the smaller stage. Out in the reception area, the HSPVA string quartet will be playing. And if all that isn't enough, the Ebony Opera Guild will be strolling around the compound, singing their hearts out for you. Dinner and a champagne reception are part of this black-tie affair. 7 p.m. (See Thrills, Theater for other grand-opening events.) The Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 520-0055. $125.

September 13
The Art of Brewing Listen up, beer aficionados! Your day has arrived. Representatives of microbreweries from around the country will descend upon Houston this weekend, and they want you to taste their wares. The beer makers not only want you to sample the beer, they want to know your opinions. Simply move from table to table, tasting what beer has become in the '90s, and cast your vote for the People's Choice Award, to be named Sunday. Professional beer makers and beer tasters (good work if you can get it) will be on hand, too; suds celebrities include Pierre Celis. Food will be on hand, and musical performers include the Flying Fish Sailors, whose sea chanteys seem so right for an afternoon of beer drinking. Noon-8 p.m. (See Thrills for other times and dates.) Garden in the Heights, 3926 Feagan, 880-1065. $20 buys you a cup and a judging pass.

Esta They met as members of the Israeli army military band, and from there broke all the rules of traditional music. Indeed, the sound this group of young men arrived at comes from a happy panoply of instruments that includes bagpipes, a Thai mouth organ, a saxophone and pots and pans. Lately they've been playing in New York City to standing-room-only crowds. Now it's our turn to sample their world instrumental music, a combination of jazz, Sephardic/Arabic sounds, African rhythms and Celtic tones. 8:30 p.m. Jewish Community Center, 5601 South Braeswood, 729-3200. $12-$15.

Lions Club Garage/Rummage Sale There is something strangely unsavory about the whole idea of garage sales. The seller displays the detritus of his life, hoping to cash in on everything he no longer deems worth having. However, when the Lions Club, that good old group of altruistic do-gooders, holds a garage sale in an effort to raise charity money, that's an altogether different matter. Sample their wares and know that every pink elephant you purchase will help someone less fortunate than yourself. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Aldine Optimist Clubhouse, 1003 Aldine Bender, (281) 367-4339. Free.

Houston Symphony During his first season with the symphony in 1989, Christoph Eschenbach led the orchestra and chorus in a critically acclaimed performance of Gustav Mahler's Resurrection Symphony. One critic raved that "the intensity of sound and emotion simply overwhelmed the listener. And just when it seemed impossible for the orchestra to give out more, it did." It is thus fitting that the symphony open its tenth season with Eschenbach by repeating its earlier success. Soprano Ying Huang will debut with the symphony in this performance; Florence Quivar, a mezzo-soprano who will also sing tonight, is an established Houston singer. 8 p.m. Performances through Monday. (See Thrills, Music for other dates and times.) Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-ARTS. $13$59.

Cat Show There are tons of dog lovers out there who simply can't understand why anyone would choose a proud, clean, lap-loving feline over a face-licking, tail-thumping, night-yowling canine. Those folks will have to stay home. For up to 275 purebred cats and kittens representing as many as 35 different breeds will be present and accounted for at the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) Annual Pedigreed Cat Show. Abyssinians, Birmans and spotted Singapuras are just a few of the breeds that will show today. You can do more than look: Kittens will be sold, and tons of kitty paraphernalia will be hawked by vendors galore. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today and Sunday. Humble Civic Center, 8233 Will Clayton Parkway, Humble, (281) 332-4353. $5, adults; $3, seniors and children 13 and under.

September 14
Psychic Sundays Has your love life become nothing more than watching reruns of The Practice on Saturday nights? Is your work so tedious that your brain is turning to Silly Putty? Maybe what you need is a real-life fortuneteller, or in more '90s vernacular, a psychic, to help you get a grip. For your convenience, Body Mind & Soul offers a one-stop-shopping sort of experience today. Meet palmists, tarot card readers and astrologers, all ready and willing to tell you who you are and what you ought to be doing. 1-5 p.m. Body Mind & Soul, 4386 Westheimer (at Mid Lane), 993-0550. $15, 15 minutes; $30, 30 minutes.

George Jones George Jones is everything that is heartbreakingly exquisite about country music. A master of the honky-tonk sound created in large part by Hank Williams, Jones's songs of love -- be it love gone south, gone bad or gone mean -- represent the best of barroom eloquence. His real-life story of epic battles with the bottle and broken marriages echoes the songs; it's clear why his music feels so true and tender and honestly tearful. "She Thinks I Still Care," "A Girl I Used to Know" and "Tender Years" are only a handful of his classics. If you're lucky, he'll sing them and more this afternoon in an outdoor concert. Bring a lawn chair and some money for a few beers, and let this giant among country singers take you back to how it used to be. 5-7 p.m. Shenanigans, 820 34th Street North, Texas City, (409) 945-9611. $25.

September 15
Ronnie Renfrow's Big Band Orchestra Tonight Cafe elysee offers something special: a 17-piece orchestra, complete with singers, playing in a room with space to dance. This evening with Ronnie Renfrow's Big Band Orchestra harks back to gentler times, when dinner was accompanied by the kind of dancing that requires you to snuggle up close. Come at 7 p.m., eat a long, leisurely dinner, then dance those potatoes away. 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Cafe elysee, 5055 Woodway, 840-1115. No cover.

September 16
Borromeo String Quartet "Encore" must be one of the sweetest words to performers, a sign that the audience not only appreciated the gift of their talent, but wants more. The New England-based Borromeo String Quartet will return to the Chamber Music Series sponsored by the Houston Friends of Music and the Shepherd School of Music after wowing classical fans during the 199596 season. The Boston Globe called one of their concerts "heart-stopping," so perhaps paramedics will be standing by for the quartet's performances of works by Ravel, Copland and Schubert. 8 p.m. Rice University, Stude Concert Hall, entrance no. 8 off University Boulevard, 285-5400. $23-$35.

September 17
Race for the Cure Dinner Most everyone knows someone who has had breast cancer. Perhaps that's why the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Race for the Cure series is the largest bunch of 5K runs in the United States. More than 400,000 runners and walkers are expected to participate in 78 cities this year. You can help start things off on the "right foot," so to speak, by taking part in the dinner and silent auction tonight. 7-10 p.m. Houston Museum of Natural Science, 1 Hermann Circle Drive. Tickets may be purchased at the door; for reservations or more information, call 850-9877. $50 includes a buffet dinner by Melange Catering.

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Lee Williams