This is actually not a spoiler for our Friday pick: The actor who plays the title role in the Classical Theatre Company’s production of Henry V is a woman. It’s not a casting gimmick, Classical Theatre’s Executive Artistic Director John Johnston tells us. “We wanted to see how we could make this interesting, make it our own,” he says. “One of the things that’s true about the play is that it’s a very manly piece. It’s about Henry coming to the throne and trying to be his own man, about how he’s going to fill the big shoes that his father left. There’s that whole manhood thing going on in the St. Crispin’s Day speech, and it’s all very aggressively manly. There aren’t very many women in the play, but the women that are there fill a very unique and specific role.
“We just kept running into manhood and being manly and masculinity, and we thought, ‘Well, gender is interesting. What if we looked at the way that gender plays a role here?’ And we decided to do gender-blind casting.”
Not a full reverse gender casting, mind you. Some of the male roles are still played by men, and some of the women’s roles are played by women, but it’s a female actor, Bree Welch, who’s tasked with bringing the bigger-than-life Henry V to the stage.
“She’s fantastic!” says Johnston. “We’re really excited to have her. She just spent a couple years in Prague, and she just came back to Houston. We scooped her up and said, ‘Hey, come be our Henry.’ We’re very excited to get to work with her again.”
Gender-blind casting isn’t the only change that Johnston and company made. An hour and a half has been cut off of the running time. “It’s a very long play in its entirety,” Johnston admits. “Frankly, I think it’s too long for modern audiences. There’s a lot that doesn’t necessarily need to be in there, so we made some changes. The show runs about two hours now.”
See Hamlet at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; 8 p.m. Monday, October 19; 8 p.m. Wednesday, October 28. Through November 1. Classical Theatre Company, 4617 Montrose. For information, call 713-963-9665 or visit classicaltheatre.org. $25.
We have another play as our other Friday pick; this time it's the action-packed The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, currently running at Stages Repertory Theatre. Luis Galindo plays Macedonio “The Mace” Guerra, a fighter apparently put on earth to make the prettier, more crowd-pleasing wrestlers look good. “He’s a nobody wrestler. He’s not a superstar. He’s what’s known in the wrestling world as a ‘jobber,’ which makes the baby face, the pretty star, look good.” Galindo says his character believes what he is doing is an art form, but that doesn’t matter to anyone else.
“Taking on this part is no small endeavor,” Galindo says. “This is probably the hardest I’ve worked on something in quite a long time because not only do I have to learn how to wrestle, but I have to get in shape. I’m a 42-year-old man. I’ve got to get in good enough shape to have a man who’s six foot five body-slam me into the mat.” In every performance, his opponent, played by Roc Living (not making that up), “power bombs” him twice.
“I encounter this young Indian kid who lives in Brooklyn, and he happens to be more charismatic than Chad Deity. Everything this kid touches turns to gold, so I figure he should be a wrestler,” Galindo says. “So I take him to my boss and my boss says we’ll make him the terrorist and we’ll make you his manager — Che Chavez Castro. And the Indian kid becomes a Muslim fundamentalist.”
As director Josh Morrison explains, this Pulitzer Prize nominee by Kristoffer Diaz is not just a wrestling story, but one with much larger ramifications and one he has wanted to do for a while. “It’s an American satire. The metaphor for the world of professional wrestling is a take on the American Dream, a very strong political message about how we put minorities in certain roles in American society.” Morrison says.
To present this regional premiere, Stages Repertory Theatre has partnered with Horsehead Theatre and Doomsday Wrestling, which is coordinating the live wrestling that goes on in the show. “We wanted to try to create this immersive experience.” There will be a wrestling ring onstage and hip-hop music throughout the show.
“The biggest challenge is the wrestling aspect, making it safe. They have to do this five times a week and it’s not like stage combat; they have to be in great shape. It’s got a ballet sort of feel. They are really slamming each other,” Morrison says.
The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is performed at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 3 p.m. Sundays. Through November 8. 3201 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713-527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. $21 to $54.
The first of our choices for Saturday is Hiram Butler Gallery's exhibit “Giverny: Journal of an Unseen Garden.” Claude Monet, the founder of French impressionism, spent the last 30 years of his life obsessively painting the landscaped gardens at Giverny through changing seasons and light. His large-scale Les Nymphéas (Water Lilies) paintings are now displayed in sweeping panoramas at Paris’s Musée de l’Orangerie.
After receiving the 2010 Munn Artist Award, New York artist Mark Fox didn’t set out to re-create these plein-air landscapes during his three-month residency at the Foundation Claude Monet. “Once I got there, I was just kind of taken with its history and, you know, the sheer impact of its beauty,” says Fox, who was given full access to the gardens. “I just wanted to do some tests, so one evening I got my key and went out there by myself and put my camera in a fish tank and weighed it down so it was below the surface, and just pushed the video function, and I sort of pushed it out into the pond with a string attached, for just a minute or two, and pulled it back in and looked at the footage — just beautiful — an underwater garden of plants and fish. I got excited about the possibilities.”
The foundation also got excited, and Fox soon swapped his Rube Goldberg contraption for better equipment. The resulting looped footage, projected side-by-side onto five screens to mimic the Musée de l’Orangerie installation, can be seen at the Hiram Butler Gallery exhibit. Shot at different times of the day and capturing the lily pond from full bloom to pre-winter decline, the videos will sometimes pair up but will never synchronize.
See “Giverny: Journal of an Unseen Garden” 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays. Through November 28. Hiram Butler Gallery, 4520 Blossom. For information call 713-863-7097 or visit hirambutler.com. Free.
Another pick for Saturday is the small but growing Houston Korean Festival 2015 (K-Fest). This year's theme is “Taste of Korea.” You know what that means, right? Kimchi for everybody! Well, maybe not everybody, but certainly for the brave souls who enter the kimchi-eating contest (after they sign a waiver, of course). Beatrice Chan, secretary of the Korean-American Society of Houston, tells us that cooking demonstrations by local chefs and an expanded food vendor area are among the added attractions this year.
“[We usually have ten restaurants]; this year we have 15: local Korean restaurants, local church groups and some ajumma (aunties), so we really have homemade flavors. The most famous is bulgogi; it’s a little spicy; galbi, that’s the short rib, barbecued short ribs; kimchi pancakes — kimchi is everywhere,” says Chan, noting that desserts include flavored cotton candy (coconut green tea or pomegranate pear) as well as Korean pastries and popsicles.
“[We have] Mexican-Korean fusion cuisine. We also have different beverages for people to try: sikhye, which is a traditional rice beverage; it’s sweet. People will be absolutely overwhelmed with the different food options we have."
The festival also offers a Kid’s Corner (with games and activities), folk dance troupes, taekwondo demonstrations and musical entertainment (international beatboxer and singer KRNFX is the headliner). “We pull our performances from the local community as well; the Houston Symphony is performing,” Chan says.
The Houston Korean Festival 2015 (K-Fest) is 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday. Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney. For information, call 713-400-7336 or visit koreanfestivalhouston.com. Free.
Expect to laugh on Sunday. Actually, expect to laugh a lot. Famed cartoonist Stephan Pastis — we know him from the syndicated comic strip Pearls Before Swine — has channeled his inner little boy with a series of books for ages eight to 12 featuring a self-important, bumbling detective and his polar bear business partner. To herald the release of his fourth book in the series, Timmy Failure: Sanitized For Your Protection, the author is the featured guest at the latest installment of the Cool Brains! Inprint Readings for Young People series.
“He’s really not smart at all, and he’s unable to solve any mystery. He’s probably the least equipped person in the room to solve any mystery,” Pastis says about main character Timmy Failure. “His partner is a 1,500-pound polar bear who may or may not be real. His name is Failure, the polar bear’s name is Total; they formed this agency called Total Failure.”
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Returning characters include always-getting-in-the-way Mom, the tangerine-smelling Molly Moskins, the elusive Corrina Corrina and best friend Rollo Tookus.
“In the fourth one — not to give too much away — he effectively sort of runs away and he goes with the felon, Molly Moskins, the incorrigible thief, a recidivist,” says Pastis. At Cool Brains!, Pastis will open with a slide show and, after talking about his characters and past books, will take questions from the kids. “And then I draw for them, I show them how to draw each of the characters; it’s their favorite part,” says Pastis.
See Stephan Pastis at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Johnston Middle School, 10410 Manhattan. For information, call 713-521-2026 or visit inprinthouston.org. Free.
Margaret Downing and Susie Tommaney contributed to this post.