It's a busy weekend, Houston. We've got some shows that are just opening and some that are about to end their run. Here are our five picks for "Must-See" arts events over the next three days.
Our pick for Friday is the TUTS Underground production of First Date. Jessica Janes, previously profiled in the Houston Press 100 Creatives series, plays Casey, a woman who’s made a game out of going on first dates and developed an attitude about it. “She goes on a lot of blind dates so it becomes sort of a game to her. She goes into it trying to find what’s wrong with the other person,” says Janes, (LMNOP, Reefer Madness, The Music Man). “Today’s dating world is tough because we have the Internet. We can make judgments, maybe unfair judgments, before giving people a chance.”
On the other side of the table is Aaron (A.J. Shively, whose Broadway credits include La Cage Aux Folles). He’s faced with her increasingly tough questions. “He’s trying so hard to play along with all my interrogations; he’s trying to roll with it as well.” Other actors sit in the restaurant surrounding them and at various times become different characters, Janes says. “So my sister suddenly appears giving her conservative advice.”
Janes is one of the local actors that TUTS Underground has encouraged with a lot of assignments. She says the troupe of actors that has grown up around the venture in Hobby Center’s smaller Zilkha Hall has really bonded. She says this role was unusual for her in that in her own life, she’s only dated people after knowing them for a while. The idea of a blind date, she says, “that’d be scary.”
There will be a pre-show to the 90-minute one-act musical, she says. “The band will be playing cabaret-style music with different actors singing other songs. So don’t be late.” As it has with other productions, TUTS Underground will have an onstage, functioning bar open to the audience before the show.
See First Date at 7:30 Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays. Through June 21. Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com. $29 to $53.
Another choice for Friday is the First Annual Comedy Dance Festival, Suchu Dance’s newest production that'is all about the laughs. In an attempt to showcase the innate humor of dance and the human body, Suchu founder and Artistic Director Jennifer Wood has created the festival.
Wood says the festival’s comedy theme is, in part, in response to the group’s most recent production. “I was in the middle of working towards our last show, Destroyed. The End, which was about the last remaining survivors at the end of the world,” Wood -explains. As she contemplated Suchu’s next move, a fun, lighthearted festival came to mind.
Not only does the festival aim to entertain audiences, but it further aspires to change the common misconception that dance as an art form is stuffy or melancholy. “The only criteria for [the choreographers] is that the works be [at least] 51 percent dance and be created with the intention of making people laugh,” says Wood.
Works by Suchu Dance, Ashley Horn Nott, Fly Dance Company, Annie Arnoult and more are on the program. Houston dance favorites Leslie Scates and Joe Modlin appear as guest artists performing with Suchu Dance as the company revisits comedic works from its past repertoire.
The festival is broken up into three weekends, each with its own content and snappy name — Program Awesome, Program Fan-tastic and Program Brilliant. The lineup -includes dancers performing with sound-making plastic wands, a duet intentionally executing the most awkward lifts possible, and a man re-enacting the time he danced with a cat.
“I am currently challenging myself to more deeply explore what humor is, what making dances that are funny means and how I can be better at it,” says Wood.
Laugh along with the First Annual Comedy Dance Festiva at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Through June 27. 3480 Ella Boulevard. For information, call 832-377-8248 or visit suchudance.org. Pay what you want.
Our first choice for Saturday is a reading and signing session by Jennifer Mathieu, young adult author (and former Houston Press staffer). This is her second outing, after her debut last year, The Truth About Alice. What if you grew up hearing that “man should rule over the household” and that women should have as many babies as their bodies can bear? If you’re a young woman growing up in a Quiverfull household, homeschooled and destined to become a “helpmate” for her future husband, independent thought might not be an option. The Christian Patriarchy Movement is the subject of Mathieu's newly released Devoted.
“I had to do a ton of research on this subculture. It’s very troublesome,” said Mathieu. “I interviewed a couple of women from this world. They told me, ‘You nailed it. You got it. This was how my life was lived.’”
Main character Rachel Walker prays every day, dresses modestly and does what she is told, but wonders about the outside world. “It’s about a young woman growing up in an extremely fundamentalist home. Very isolated. Very strict gender rules,” said Mathieu. “She doesn’t feel happy. She doesn’t feel this is how she should live.”
The name Quiverfull comes from Psalm 127: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”
Mathieu’s first book, The Truth About Alice, creatively explored the dangers of gossip. In Devoted, the message is that it’s normal to begin to break away from parents and try to establish one’s own place in the world. “It’s a crisis-of-faith book,” said Mathieu. “Teenagers should ask the big questions, like ‘what do I believe?’”
See Jennifer Mathieu at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Blue Willow Bookshop, 14532 Memorial Drive. For information, call 281-497-8675 or visit bluewillowbookshop.com. Free.
In keeping with its Shakespearean theme this season, Houston Ballet is closing out with The Taming of the Shrew in all its politically incorrect — by modern-day standards — glory. Complete with comedy, epic battles and splendid lifts, the production gives principals Connor Walsh and Melody Mennite the chance to reprise their roles from their 2011 Houston premiere of John Cranko’s work. It's one of our picks for Saturday.
Walsh dances the part of Petruchio, the man who drinks too much and is persuaded to marry Katherina, the so-called shrew, for money. “If you take Kate out of this play and put her in modern-day society,” Walsh says, “she’s actually just a modern-day feminist; she’s way ahead of her time. She’s in a man’s world, and she’s rejecting it. She lives at a time that she does not get to run her own life, and she’s rebelling against that. Which now we applaud. But she lived in a period where that was an outrageous idea.”
At the same time, he points out, Kate is really disagreeable when we first meet her. “She is quite awful in the beginning. The more awful she is, the less of a victim she is. It’s more of her getting a taste of her own medicine.” Walsh thinks the point of the work is really about selflessness, especially when the two start to get along and are willing to do things for each other.
His own character goes through a progression as well, Walsh says. “It seems that he really does fall in love with Kate. He’s sort of doing these things for money and for love, but in the end he also becomes very unselfish. He seems to be very happy with Kate. And less drunk.
“As dancers, we love revisiting a role. When you start working on it, you’re skipping the process of learning the material, learning the technical aspects of the partnering with the difficult steps and turns. You have to work a little bit to get that back, but you’re a step ahead and you can dive straight into interpretation,” says Walsh, adding, “I’m using the same inspirations. I’m just trying to take it to another level, trying to make our characters more cohesive and more believable.”
“It is a fantastic ballet. It’s in a lot of companies’ repertoire. When we’re doing a Shakespeare-themed season, it’s a perfect way to finish. We’re finishing the season on a high note; it’s masterfully crafted in the way the story is told and the way the humor is delivered.”
See The Taming of the Shrew at 7:30 p.m. 13 and 19; 2 p.m. June 14 and 21; 2 and 7:30 p.m. June 20. Through June 21. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $20 to $165.
And finally on Sunday, our pick is William Gibson's bio-drama The Miracle Worker, currently in the last weeks of its run at A.D. Players. Our theater critic, D. L. Groover raved about the production in his review.
There are few viscerally more exciting American play than William Gibson's bio-drama The Miracle Worker, Groover wrote. The A. D. Players production catches the audience by the throat and wrings it dry, then makes us weep for joy at the inextinguishable mystery of life.
Few other stage dramas ask so much of its actors; leaving them bruised from the externals of performing and leaves audiences, too, beaten up but better for it. In its magnificent production, A.D. Players strikes right at the heart and delivers an exemplary piece of theater. It's quite an accomplishment.
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Annie and Helen are touchstone roles in the theater. The physicality is daunting enough: a real test of strength and endurance as Annie (Christy Watkins) seeks to control and discipline wild child Helen (McKay Lawless), all while attempting to teach her that “everything has a name!” She must crack through Helen's shell of deafness and blindness without cracking Helen in the process.
Annie gets whacked in the face with a porcelain doll, slapped about, stabbed with a needle, doused with a pitcher of water, and then has to wrestle a thrashing, tantrum-prone and just-as-headstrong Helen back to the dinner table, repeatedly hauling her to her chair each time she tries to escape. She has to force feed her. This “dinner scene” is one of theater's most classic sequences, a masterpiece of intensifying stage action, a rough house of flailing feet, swinging arms, and flung food. It's a battle of wills, all right, civilization vs. primeval. By the end of the scene, we're as drained as the actors, breathless and exhausted.
The Miracle Worker runs at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Through June 21. A.D. Players, 2710 West Alabama. For information, call 713-526-2721 or visit adplayers.org. $40.
Margaret Downing, Ashley Clos, D. L. Groover and Susie Tommaney contributed to this post.