The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Danube, Goldthwait and more

You’re going to have to fill in some blanks this Friday at Catastrophic Theatre’s The Danube. There’s a plot, sure. An American, Paul (played by Troy Schulze), visits a foreign country and falls in love with a woman there, Eve (Amy Bruce). As the two begin their relationship, both are infected with a mysterious illness, an illness that, it seems, has affected the whole city and maybe even beyond. What’s the illness? Was it a nuclear bomb? The plague? Ah, that’s one of the blanks you’ll have to fill in because it’s never revealed.

Director Jason Nodler is okay with leaving some aspects of The Danube unexplained. Nodler, who calls the production “more an experience than a play,” says playwright María Irene Fornés uses “mystery and formal elements and dream logic and poetry” to tell the story of The Danube. Does it all make perfect sense, is everything tied up in a neat bow by the end of the show? Ah, no.

“Art is not the news,” Nodler tells us. “It is not the story of what happened but of the way it felt…The events [in the play] serve as a frame on which to hang the feelings. More traditional plays work in the opposite fashion.”

Nodler directed a production of The Danube 15 years ago for the now-defunct Infernal Bridegroom Productions. That cast included Troy Schulze, Amy Bruce (sound familiar?), Charlie Scott and Kyle Sturdivant. Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre Artistic Director Joel Orr was also part of the team. Nodler managed to reunite that original group for this Catastrophic Theatre production. Don’t think this is a revival of that show. Same cast and crew, same play, yes, but a different time makes for a different show.

“On this one, we had a great head start because we’d done it before. But what it meant to us 15 years ago when we first mounted it is entirely different than what it means today. And it’s different for each member of our ensemble.”

8 p.m. Friday. Continuing 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Through October 17. 1119 East Freeway. For information, call 713-522-2723 or visit Pay-what-you-can. 

Comedian, filmmaker and master of absurdity, Bobcat Goldthwait headlines a weekend at the Houston Improv; he opened Thursday and does two shows Friday. Once best known for playing Zed, the manic cadet in the Police Academy movies, the 53-year-old has reinvented himself as one of the most successful independent directors working today. His films World’s Greatest Dad, God Bless America and Willow Creek have enjoyed positive reviews, and Call Me Lucky, a documentary about comedian-turned-justice-crusader Barry Crimmins, recently opened at the Sundance Film Festival and is being called his “masterpiece” (Hitflix). Goldthwait shrugs off the accolades and quips, “most young people only know me as the guy who shows up occasionally on their favorite podcast.”

Goldthwait names Andy Kaufman as one of his major comedic influences, primarily for his use of anti-humor. “My initial stand-up act was really kind of a parody of stand-up. Somewhere along the line I actually became a comic, and I don’t know how that happened.”

As far as his own stand-up career goes, Goldthwait seems to have a new lease on life. “For years, I would definitely say I was trapped in this zone of expectations where I didn’t feel like disappointing [the audience], but I wasn’t enjoying myself onstage.

“But then I realized, it’s not the stand-up I didn’t enjoy — it was the persona I was doing. So I made the decision to jettison [the persona].” Nowadays, the comedian feels more “honest” onstage and “a little past” worrying about pleasing everyone all the time. “It’s those shows where folks allow me to ad-lib and goof around where I walk away thinking, ‘Man, that was a pretty good show.’”

8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday; 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Houston Improv, 7620 Katy Freeway. For information, call 713-333-8800 or visit $17 to $30. 

Former Houston Ballet dancer Garrett Smith had been holding onto a piece of famed composer Philip Glass’s music that he thought was really special. Then Houston Ballet’s Artistic Director, Stanton Welch, called him asking him to choreograph a new work for the ballet’s Fall Mixed Repertory Program and everything fell into place for Reveal; that's why it's our pick for this Saturday. Smith’s third work for the Houston company is a 25-minute piece in three sections in which all sorts of contrasts are set up, including those of gender, costume color (black and white) and dance style (some en pointe and others in flat shoes), he says. The opening music is “a double cello concerto that’s kind of dark and makes you think of spies running in the night,” which then moves to a “beautiful piano and string concerto.” During the start of rehearsals, he says, he’s had several people come into the room asking, “What’s that music?”

Eight men and four women perform in the piece, which is designed to make people think about how “we kind of always want what we don’t have. It’s about being able to be comfortable with who you are and what you’ve been given,” Smith says.

Of course, no ballet story is without drama, and Smith, who most recently has danced for the Norwegian National Ballet and created works for it and the Milwaukee Ballet (and who’ll be choreographing for the New York City Ballet), says this was no exception. Securing the rights to the prized Glass work was “super-expensive,” Smith says, and they almost didn’t get them and were going to have to substitute something else. But in the end, Houston Ballet was able to make it all work.

Other works in this showcase of contemporary choreography will include the return of British master and Houston Ballet Associate Choreographer Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances after 12 years. Welch’s Tapestry, which gives the company’s dancers a real chance to shine, will round out the program.

7:30 p.m. Saturday. Continuing 2 p.m. Sunday and October 4; and 7:30 p.m. October 2 and 3. Wortham Theater Center, Brown Theater, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit $20 to $197. 

“You know how there are some people that are so charming and charismatic that you don’t notice that they aren’t really very nice? That’s Alexa Vere de Vere,” says director Christine Vinh Weems of the central character in As Bees in Honey Drown, Douglas Carter Beane’s satirical comedy, which opened Thursday and is our pick for this Saturday.

Alexa, played here by Whitney Zangarine, seems to be glamorous and famous. She’s actually a bit of a con artist. Evan Wyler, played by Bryan Kaplun, is an up-and-coming writer…and Alexa’s latest target. She feeds him lie after lie, each of which Evan happily believes, and takes the young writer on a whirlwind ride.

“What’s so amazing to me is that people like Evan fall for Alexa’s [routine]. And then that, even after they realize what happened to them, they won’t admit it. They still hang around, knowing what’s going on. That’s a lot of charisma.”

8 p.m. Saturday. Continuing 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays. Through October 11. Queensbury Theatre, 12777 Queensbury Lane. For information, call 713-467-4497 or visit $35. 

It is ironic that one of the 20th century’s most accomplished photographers had for years been known for just a small body of work. That all changed when the International Center of Photography chronicled and archived more than 10,000 negatives from Roman Vishniac’s home; almost 250 objects are on display at the “Roman Vishniac Rediscovered” exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which is open this Sunday afternoon.

“First and foremost, he’s an artist who is known for four years of work,” says Maya Benton, exhibition curator, who has been working on archiving and digitizing those negatives for ICP, a process that resulted in 50,000 objects. “For the first time, we’re introducing six decades of work.”

Russian-born Vishniac immigrated to Berlin in 1920, and later began to photograph symbols related to the Nazi rise to power. As part of a fundraising campaign, he was hired in 1935 to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Europe. His now-famous documentations of daily life captured hunger and homelessness, but they also recorded happy family scenes, such as a mother pushing a baby carriage down the street, until one notices the swastika flag in the background.

One very famous image, taken from inside the polar bear exhibit at a zoo, creates the illusion that people visiting the zoo are behind bars. “He was a zoologist; the zoo was a second home. One of his best friends was the head of the zoo,” said Benton. A few weeks later, all Jews — including Vishniac — were banned from the zoo. After moving to New York in 1941, the photographer continued to capture American Jewish life throughout the ’40s and ’50s; his other passion was photomicroscopy, a field to which he devoted the last 45 years of his life.

12:15 to 7 p.m. Sunday. Continuing 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 12:15 to 7 p.m. Sundays. Through January 3. 1001 Bissonnet. For information call 713-639-7300 or visit $15. 

Margaret Downing, Olivia Flores Alvarez and Vic Shuttee contributed to this post.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney