Press Picks

september 25
Playboy Models Autograph Party Though there is much bickering over where it all started, some say that topless/nude table dancing began somewhere in Florida back in the early '70s, the wee years of the sexual revolution. Of course, it took a city as big and manly as Houston, with all the oil-boom muscle of the '80s, to perfect the table dance. What was once wildly raucous naked gyrating in men's faces has become a rarefied art form of calculated undulations and whispers, complete with valet parking. Houston is, of course, now famous for its men's clubs. So famous that Playboy had to include our city in its current special issue: the 1998 Guide to Men's Clubs. To celebrate, the fittingly named Men's Club is hosting festivities at which two of the lovely young women who grace the glossy pages of Playboy will happily sign your personal issue. Sip a half-price martini as you queue up to meet the beauty of your choice and be thankful that those church-lady scoundrels down at City Hall have not yet had their way with our city's famously fabulous titty bars. 7-9 p.m. The Men's Club, 3303 Sage, 629-7900. $7, cover.

Black Eagles The Ensemble Theatre spent $4 million last year to completely renovate its space. Thus, the show that opens this year's season debuts a performing space as well as a new show. Black Eagles tells the story of the courageous Tuskegee Airmen, who fought both Nazis and racism. Their true story works as a metaphor for the Ensem-ble's struggle to found and develop a strong theater company that focuses on themes and conflicts particular to African-Americans. In addition to the production, playgoers can peruse the historic display of model planes, original photos and reading material that will be featured in the theater's lobby throughout the run. Thru Oct. 26. Opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. (See Thrills, Theater for other times.) The Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main Street, 520-0055. $12; $10, seniors and students.

september 26
Circus Flora With the advent of palatial covered stadiums such as the Summit and the Astrodome, the days of the circus "big top" are all but gone. Thankfully, Circus Flora is a throwback: a one-ring, one-elephant outfit which promises that no seat is more than 40 feet from the ring. But Flora's tumble back into a sweeter time comes with all the advantages and pyrotechnics of the 20th century. The show's old-fashioned big top is blessedly air-conditioned. The amazing '90s-style trapeze acts feature triple somersaults and terrifying tumbling, all performed without any safety nets. And the actor-performers tell a mythical tale of twins separated at birth. Runs through October 5. Performances today at 9:45 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. (See Thrills, Kids for other dates and times.) Children's Museum parking lot, 1500 Binz, 227-ARTS. $8$25.

Jason Stuart He's been highlighted on Comedy Central's Out There in Hollywood, an annual program devoted to gay and lesbian standup talent, and his gay following is so strong he can recall seeing his audience at a gay pride event silently mouthing the words to his routine. But he has tons of straight fans, too, and advertises his act as "gay comedy for the whole family." In part, that means he talks about his family. "My parents are divorced," he says. "My father married a really nice gal; she's 12. I have a sister who's an Orthodox Jew as of four years ago. She doesn't let me talk to her kid because she's afraid if I look at her kid he'll turn gay. We have that power. I have an 87-year-old grandmother who I help take care of. She thinks everything should be free. I bought her some magazines the other day. She said, 'Oh my God, did you pay for these?' I said, 'No, I got them from the doctor's office. They're free.' " 8:30 p.m. Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington, 869-5483. $22.50, seats; $17.50, standing.

John Denver John Denver, nee Henry Deutschendorf, may no longer be a mega-pop star, but he has an enormous list of credits to his Rocky Mountains stage name. The ex-lead singer of the Chad Mitchell trio, he wrote Peter, Paul & Mary's first number-one hit, "Leaving on a Jet Plane," and went on to record reams of warm fuzzy sentimental songs -- stuff such as "Sunshine on My Shoulders," "Annie's Song" and "Rocky Mountain High." Tonight, and every night this weekend, he will join the Houston Symphony for a series of concerts that promise to make the audience feel all sweet inside, like only pop music can. 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-ARTS. $21-$71.

september 27
Columbia First Concerts Children's Series In recognition of some of their littlest listeners, the Houston Symphony has designed a series of concerts targeted right at their tender music-loving souls. The Houston Symphony and its conductor-in-residence Stephen Stein are joined by narrator Randolph Lacy and dancers from the Houston Ballet Academy; together, they'll perform music from Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique -- and they'll leaven that culture with music from favorite Disney films. Leave your children sighing for more. 9:30 a.m., pre-concert activities begin. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-ARTS. $10 and $5, adults; $7 and $3, children.

The Orton Dyslexia Conference: Pathways to Potential Learning disabilities cause tremendous frustration, both for the individuals who have them and for their parents and teachers. But knowing the facts, theories and tried-and-true strategies for dealing with dyslexia and other learning disabilities can go a long way toward fighting that frustration. The Houston branch of the Dyslexia Society offers an all-day conference devoted to learning disabilities. Hear the latest from counselors, doctors and teachers. 7 a.m.-6 p.m. University of Houston, Hilton Hotel & Conference Center, 4800 Calhoun, 529-1975. $75, members; $95, non-members.

Wings Over Houston Airshow Festival The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Jet Demo Team spirals through the air in their F-16C Fighting Falcons loud and fast. Their 35-minute program -- complete with diamond formation, six-aircraft delta formation and single- and two-aircraft solos -- shows how extraordinarily graceful those leviathans of metal can be in the hands of a gifted pilot. In addition, the Wings Over Houston Airshow features the French Connection Aerobatic Team, said to be the only husband-and-wife aerobatic team in the world. Daniel Heligoin and Montaine Mallet fly their head-on maneuvers, including the "exclusive mirror-image 360 degrees," to music and poetry. (Ah, romance!) For baser thrills, there's Les Shockley's Super ShockWave "Jet Truck": Its 25,000-horsepower engine propels it at a Guinness Book record of 375 miles per hour. And there's a jump team, military maneuvers and the Red Baron Stearman Squadron. 8 a.m.-6 p.m. today and Sunday. Ellington Field, (281) 531-9461. $30, reserved prime view seats; $15, general admission adults; $5, children under 12; free, children under six.

Tails of the Wild West Humane Society Gala Animal lovers aren't usually the dress-up-fancy type, but that doesn't mean they don't enjoy a night on the town once in a while. The Houston Humane Society's country-and-western gala offers an opportunity to party with the pooches. Dine, dance and enjoy the music of Kevin Black in that decidedly human way, then meet 1997 Humane Society's Spokespets Woody and Hank. The gala benefits the "four-legged orphans of the Houston Humane Society." Your ticket includes dinner, beer and wine, and all the doggie kisses you can stand. 7 p.m.-midnight, Sheraton Astrodome Hotel, 8686 Kirby, 434-5555 for reservations. $50, individual; $75, couple.

september 28
Orange Show Eyeopeners Classic Tour Searching out all the folk art in Houston would be hard to do on your own. A lot of it is in (or on) people's homes, and it would be unseemly to go barging in on someone's Sunday dinner asking to look at their cool stuff. Knowing this, the Orange Show has put together a bus tour in which you can join other folk art lovers and discover, in an orderly fashion, what Houston folk artists have been up to. Stop by the now famous Beer Can House, built by John Milkovisch, or chat with Sylvester Williams, Victoria Herberta and other artists whose decorated homes give character to our neighborhoods. They all know you're coming and look forward to the visit. 1-6 p.m. Call 926-6368 for reservations. $30.

Open a New Window: Songs by Jerry Herman Cabaret musical revues are amazingly hard to come by in Houston, a town that prides itself on a burgeoning theater/music/performance-art community. Tonight, however, is an exception. Douglas Robb has compiled his favorite tunes of Jerry Herman's Broadway music to tell the tale of his own coming of age in the theater, moving from his starstruck days as a pre-adolescent through his nights as a Broad-way performer. Desire, art, fame and more are covered in the music from such sparkling shows as Mame and La Cage aux Folles. 8 p.m. Ovations, 2536-B Times Blvd. 521-3237. $10.

september 29
Private School Preview Some say luck begets luck. Perhaps that's so. For instance: Tonight, all you folks lucky enough to afford private schooling for your child also have the opportunity to shop for that perfect place of learning. Eighty private day and boarding schools will gather under one roof to hawk their wares. Representatives from each school will be on hand to answer questions and arrange on-site tours. 6-8 p.m. The Kinkaid School, 201 Kinkaid School Drive (off San Felipe), 782-1640. Free.

september 30
Edmund White White started his latest novel in 1992 believing he would die soon. He was HIV-positive, had watched many friends die over the previous ten years and had no reason to believe his fate would be any different. He took the title of that novel -- The Farewell Symphony -- from Haydn's composition of the same name, in which the musicians leave the stage one by one until only a violin is left. This novel, which White calls "autobiographical fiction," is the third in a trilogy chronicling gay life. The first, A Boy's Own Story, won him national acclaim in 1982; in 1994, he won the Book Critics Circle Award. The London Times called The Farewell Symphony "a monumental achievement"; The Sunday Times of London said it is a "work of singular accomplishment." Meet White and hear him discuss his elegiac novel tonight. 7 p.m. Crossroads Market Bookstore & Cafe, 1111 Westheimer, 942-0147. Free.

october 1
A Little Day Music The Da Camera tradition of free lunchtime concerts resumes today. Bring a lunch, spread yourself out and listen to the lovely music of Andrzej Grabiec on violin and Timothy Hester on piano -- a wondrous respite from the downtown Houston workaday struggle. Noon. Grand Foyer, Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas, 524-5050. Free.

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Lee Williams