The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: The Jew Who Loved Christmas and More

Toxic radiation inspired Suchu Dance’s Jennifer Wood to choreograph begin wide, an evening-length work of postmodern dance that’s athletic, fluid, detailed and our choice for Friday

“Radioluminescence — I liked the language around it, and it gave me an idea. And the idea of something glowing in the dark was inspiring visually,” says company founder Wood, who also serves as the group’s choreographer and artistic director.

The troupe, which has added several new dancers this year, is in its new home at The MATCH. “It’s in the Black Box, so everything’s black and the theater’s stripped,” says Wood. The Black Box isn’t quite as empty as its title might imply, and Wood promises that her lighting designer has worked out something “really sexy with the lights.” An original soundscape by Fescennine accompanies the piece. “That music is all created digitally. The music is created while in the studio, while the pieces are being choreographed. So it’s a mutual exchange.”

“There [are also some] moments of humor. A lot of people who are familiar with my work know that there’s always something funny in there,” says Wood.

8 p.m. December 17 through 19. 3400 Main. For information, call 832-377-8248 or visit suchudance.org. $25.

It can be confusing growing up in a Jewish household with a Christmas tree every year. Local playwright Abby Koenig channeled those crossed signals into a one-woman show, The Jew Who Loves Christmas, and Horse Head Theatre Company has asked her to perform the play again this Saturday for its Horse Head Holiday Huzzah!

“It’s autobiographical,” says Koenig. “[I] tried to understand why we celebrated Christmas; nobody seemed to know why.

“Through the performance I sort of realized I fell in love with Christmas so much as a kid because I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family, and Christmas is functional. Every year we have this one day of normalcy.”

This will be the third year she’s done the show, and she’s tweaked the ending a bit. Without giving away the plot, her story does involve loss. “I can’t even explain how many people have come up to me, people who have lost members of their family. The holidays are the hardest time for them, and this is a nice way to think about their losses, a celebration of sorts,” says Koenig.

The Holiday Huzzah! includes holiday games and contests, a silent auction and raffle, probably a few ugly sweaters, an open bar and light bites. “It will be a fun party. Santa will certainly be there,” says Koenig. “I think we’re going to have a dreidel center set up for this year, so we can do some minor gambling — not illegal gambling — dreidel gambling.”

8 p.m. to midnight Saturday. (The Jew Who Loves Christmas begins at 8:30 p.m.) MECA, 1900 Kane Street. For information, call 281-381-4166 or visit horseheadtheatre.org. $29 to $65.

A drummer, a keyboardist and a violin player (and not just any violin, but a Viper with its wickedly fascinating V shape and electric sound) command the stage for an entire musical to tell a holiday story spanning centuries and geography. The two men and one woman have to not only be able to act, but to play the entire rock/pop/jazz score by themselves. Anyone looking for something different in December might want to take in the second production from TUTS Underground this season, which its director, Marley Wisnoski, describes as “a concert mixed with theater.”

In our second Saturday pick, Striking 12, a modern-day New York City man, single and very unhappy in life after his fiancée has broken up with him, decides that New Year’s Eve celebrations are not for him and he’ll stay home. A young woman comes to his door selling lightbulbs — special ones designed for seasonal affective disorder — but he turns her away.

Before she goes, she brings up Hans Christian Andersen’s classic story “The Little Match Girl” and he begins reading it. “With that comes the third story, and the whole show is a mix between the 21st century and 19th-century Denmark,” says Wisnoski. “How her story moves him to look past himself and see other people is really the beauty of this piece to me. It doesn’t highlight Santa Claus or holiday festivities but rather the other side, about how other people in the world live, are depressed, brokenhearted or live in poverty.”

Wisnoski says she realized from the start this was going to be a challenging story to tell. The associate artistic director at TUTS explains that the same actors take on the roles of multiple characters, so the young woman selling lightbulbs is also the Little Match Girl.

“How do I move her around the 19th-century world?” Part of the solution was using the electric Viper with its shoulder strap, which allowed actress Andrea Gross (on Broadway: Cabaret, Once, Rent) easy movement across the stage in the 70-minute one-act, Wisnoski says. The other two instruments were the keyboard (Ian Lowe, National Tour: Murder for Two) and the drums (Zach Grossman Regional: The Buddy Holly Story).

“You have someone on the keyboard and the drums the whole time; how do you make that work? How do you keep moving the story along?” Wisnoski says. Solutions included moving the stage closer to the audience to make it a more intimate experience and using lighting spots to help the audience know when to look at what performer, she says.

Even though there are no elves, Santa Clauses or big numbers, Wisnoski says the show, which she described as ultimately uplifting and filled with hope, is family friendly. And it all comes complete with snow for the first time in a TUTS Underground production. What more could you ask for?

7:30 p.m. December 17, 21, 22 and 23; 8 p.m. December 18; 3 and 8:30 p.m. December 19; and 2 p.m. December 20. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com. $25 to $49.

"It’s all about storytelling,” explains Marian Lutz, curator of the 2015 British Arrows Awards, screening this Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “The talent here is in communication and in bringing all the aspects of filmmaking. You have your story, how you’re going to portray your message, production design, scripts, sound effects — all the elements you would see in a feature film or a documentary.”

The British Arrow Awards is a program that recognizes and celebrates the best commercials and public service announcements from the United Kingdom. Among the four broad categories of TV/Viral/Web-based, Cinema, Integrated and Series, the awards get interestingly specific:

“Of course, they have the Commercial of the Year, and the usual honoring of an individual. But other categories include dairy products, retail, time-based categories, but it’s the public service announcements that are always among the most powerful.”

There are bronze, silver and gold winners. For the screening, there’s a compilation created of the winners of each category, as well as some honorable mentions, all run back to back.

“Our audiences really enjoy it. It’s a wild ride because it’s an emotional roller coaster. It’s funny and clever, but there are also moments where you sink to the depths because of some of the powerful messages.”

5 p.m. Sunday. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7515 or visit mfah.org. $9.

The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to a peasant in what would become Mexico City in 1531. But according to Dirk Van Tuerenhout, curator of the “La Virgen de Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas” exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and our second pick for Sunday, her story began long before that.

“We go back in time and explain where her story really started,” he tells us. “Back to Mexico at the time of Juan Diego and back to Spain before that. Juan Diego lived most of his life before the Spaniards came to Mexico. He lived in an Aztec world. In order to show where she came from, we need to show that aspect as well — where did he come from? What was the world like when she appeared to him?”

For Juan Diego and others like him, that world was a pretty bloody, confusing place.

The Catholic Spaniards, pushed out of Europe by Muslims, were looking for new territories to conquer. They came to the New World and encountered the Aztecs. “The Spaniards and the Aztecs were fighting; the Aztecs lost. Everything changed. Lots of people have died during the fighting; many more would die after the fighting when diseases devastate the population.

“You look around and the capital is totally devastated. The world has completely changed. You have to come to terms with the idea that the religion that you have was not powerful enough to protect you. That was the world that she appeared in.”

Van Tuerenhout tells us the museum, which organized the exhibit, had been thinking about it for a year and a half. Among the many aspects museum staff faced in putting the exhibit together was the question of theology versus history, politics versus pop culture. “We are obviously not a church; we will never be a church. We approached this with a lot of respect. We tell the story from a historical and archeological viewpoint.”

The five-section exhibit includes the original manuscript known as Nican Mopohua, an Aztec-language record of the apparition, an interactive version of the oldest known map of Mexico City (both of which date back to the 16th century) and other artifacts and related objects.

Modern objects of devotion in the exhibit include a bedspread with the image of the Virgin on it, an acrylic doorknob showing her image and Christmas lights. Van Tuerenhout points out, “She represents protection, and what more protection than to sleep under her image? You’re opening a door, touching her image.”

Van Tuerenhout says the “Empress of the Americas” exhibit is the Virgin of Guadalupe’s story up until today. The end of the exhibit is not the end of the story, he points out. “Her story’s not over. It will keep changing, keep growing.”

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Through September 5, 2016. 5555 Herman Park Drive. For information, call 713-639-4629 or visit hmns.org. $25 to $35.

Susie Tommaney, Margaret Downing and Bill Simpson contributed to this post. 

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