Our first pick for Friday is Lisa D'Amour's black comedy Red Death, making its Houston premiere at Mildred's Umbrella. Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," it's the story of Jane, a woman who's been tasked with finding the "origin of evil, the root of denial, and the basic human weakness" by a mysterious and secret panel. Red Death follows Jane from Florida's beaches to the Adriatic Sea to the sewers of Texas as she goes to drastic lengths to accomplish her mission. Or should we say, her interpretation of her mission. (Her version isn't quite what the panel had in mind.)
It's directed by Mildred's Umbrella's artistic director, Jennifer Decker, who tells us the play's multiple locations were a concern from a technical standpoint. "Our space is small, and there are many locations and quick costume changes for the lead character, which is always a challenge." She credits the company's "fabulous designers," Jodi Bobrovski, Greg Starbird, Lindsay Burns and Andy McWilliams, with solving the various problems leading to a glitch-free production.
D'Amour's Detroit is coincidentally being performed this season by Catastrophic Theatre. The double dose of D'Amour was accidental. "That wasn't planned," Decker tells us, "but I think it's kind of cool."
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On Friday, Moses Pendleton, founder and artistic director of the dancer-illusionist troupe MOMIX, delivers Alchemia. The show has a dash of the whimsical, fantastical world of wizardry. Incorporating an extremely unusual soundtrack, the two-part multimedia presentation features a handful of dancers who dazzle as they explore the four elements: earth, wind, fire and water. Nothing about the show is ordinary. From the shooting red flames that engulf the stage to the stunning aerial stunts and awe-inspiring costumes, Pendleton's latest work is enchanting, innovative and overwhelmingly beautiful. He still manages to outdo himself with Alchemia, as the dancers explore the metamorphosis of life's most basic elements in one incredible show of art. Alchemia is performed with no intermission.
On Saturday, it's time to dust off your corset and start practicing your Elizabethan accent - the 40th Annual Texas Renaissance Festival is here. Texas Ren Fest, not only the nation's largest Renaissance-themed fair but also the most awesome, is open every weekend (including some Fridays). The big news this year is the addition of the King Midas Masquerade (8 p.m. to 1 a.m. every Saturday). A 15,000-square-foot pavilion, fashioned after an ancient Greek temple, has been constructed for the ball (and it has climate control!).
Each weekend of the festival has a theme, including pirate adventure, barbarian invasion, Roman bacchanal and Celtic Christmas. Spread out across 55 acres, all of which are crafted to resemble 16th-century Britain, Texas Ren Fest includes some 200 performances daily. Make sure you find your way to the joust, where spectators are expected to be as rowdy as the battling knights on their trusty steeds. Along with lots of roaming entertainers -- jugglers, singers, jesters and musicians -- there are hundreds of shops (pick up next year's costume while you're there). Lots of visitors are unofficial medieval players. You'll see folks decked out in some of the more risqué Renaissance garb or cheeky -- and we do mean that quite literally -- chain-mail attire. There's also an iron-working display, friendly man-powered dragons and elephant rides. Oh, and did we mention the giant turkey legs?
10 a.m. until sundown Saturdays, Sundays and select Fridays. Through November 30. Texas Renaissance Festival Fairgrounds, 21778 FM 1774, Todd Mission. For information, call 800‑458‑3435 or visit texrenfest.com. $23 to $27. This story continues on the next page.
This story continues on the next page.On Saturday, Houstonians get a performance and a chance to break the Guinness world record for the number of people spinning plates simultaneously at the National Acrobats of China show. Presented by the Society for the Performing Arts, the acrobatic troupe features 35 performers, each of them a master in illusion, martial arts and, of course, acrobatics. In addition to the tricks, there are cycling stunts and bench juggling. Oh, and lots of plate spinning, hence the attempt at the world record. (Get there early to participate in the record attempt. Organizers tell us no previous experience is necessary.)
We all know the story of Marie Antoinette: spoiled rich queen who got rather severely punished when the people of France got tired of all the partying. Several authors and directors (Sofia Coppola for one) have taken turns retelling her story and playwright David Adjmi is among them. Stages Repertory Theatre is bringing Adjmi's Marie Antoinette to its stage complete with sky-high hairdos, gorgeous ball gowns and a truth-telling sheep (a surreal element) who attempts a lifestyle intervention for the girl from Austria (sadly unsuccessful). Sunday's performance closes out the show's opening weekend.
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Sam Houston University prof Leslie Swackhamer is back in Houston to direct this two-act with its 12-member cast, and has discarded the starker version presented in New York City. "Fashion and excess is what Marie Antoinette is all about; you're going to get some fashion and some excess. It's going to be quite a feast for the eyes in terms of design." Swackhamer predicts that audiences will discover that the title character was not all bad. "Marie Antoinette was just a very convenient scapegoat, sort of like our celebrities right now. She was 14 years old when she went to France to marry. That's a pretty young girl. And then Louis XV died unexpectedly, so they were teenagers when they were made king and queen. There's certain things about them you actually like, including she's got spirit in the face of quite a number of obstacles. Surprisingly, you get to where you actually like her."
Although the play is set in the 18th century, the dialogue is all in the modern vernacular, and Swackhamer says the story really resonates with audiences today. "Every major fashion designer has done a collection on Marie Antoinette. She's our first celebrity devoured by her own sense of celebrity. The ultimate fashion victim."
7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Through November 2. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713‑527‑0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. $19 to $54.
Angelica Leicht and Margaret Downing contributed to this post.