Sam Shepard understands family dysfunction, mining that universal common thread to pen almost 50 plays. This Friday we're celebrating the multihyphenated dramatist (he's also known as a writer, a director and an actor) with a double-header of his work: the sibling rivalry comedy True West and the surreal, frozen-in-time Buried Child. Rounding out the weekend are zombies, dystopian debauchery and some of our favorite events from the Houston Ballet (Director’s Choice: American Ingenuity) and Houston Grand Opera (HGO Studio Showcase).
The model son is dead. A second son is an emotional cripple; a third, a physical one. Dodge, the alcoholic father of this farmhouse family, hasn’t planted anything in years. And the secretive mother, Halie, is off and away. Then there’s the dead baby. The American Dream lies in tatters around all of them. When accomplished actor Jeff Miller decided to take on his first directing assignment, he went very big. He’s at the helm of The Catastrophic Theatre’s upcoming production of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning dark comedy Buried Child, the story of a rural Illinois family unable to get past its own devastating actions and regrets. Set in the 1970s, the play is also “at a place where time has actually stopped,” Miller says. “Outside the house is taboo land where you have multiple levels of reality, sometimes conflicting.” A grandson returns to the farm and no one knows him — not his father nor his grandfather. As with other Shepard plays, the theme of identity runs throughout this work, Miller says. Miller credits his stellar cast — Rutherford Cravens as Dodge, Carolyn Houston Boone as Halie, Greg Dean as Tilden, Kyle Sturdivant as Bradley, Dayne Lathrop as Vince, Candice D’Meza as Shelly, and Charlie Scott as Father Dewis — with a successful negotiation of a landscape both real and surreal. This dark comedy with themes of renewal is one of our recommendations for Friday night drama.
8 p.m. Friday. Continuing 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Through October 1. The MATCH, 3400 Main. For information call 713-521-4533 or visit catastrophictheatre.com. Pay what you can.
Last year, 4th Wall Theatre Company (then known as Stark Naked Theatre Company) finished its season in grand style with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and a visiting production of Saint Joan. In like manner, co-founders Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin-Lehl are beginning this season with another classic, Sam Shepard’s True West, the story of two brothers who’ve ratcheted sibling rivalry up to the nth degree and think they’d like to live each other’s life. Drake Simpson and Nick Farco play the brothers, with Simpson taking on the Lee role. “He’s our rebel. He’s the person who doesn’t want to conform. He’s not comfortable in a situation where someone wants to contain him. He’s a nomad,” says Tobin-Lehl, who is directing. Farco plays married scriptwriter Austin. “Austin is your intellect. The guy who wants everything compartmentalized. He wants order,” Tobin-Lehl says. “Austin longs for the freedom to be Lee to wander the desert, and Lee longs to be able to be smart and intelligent enough to figure out how to have a house and have a family.” Rounding out the cast are Lehl as film producer Saul and Sally Burtenshaw as the brothers’ mother. “It’s exciting; it’s funny. It’s a really great ride in the theater. It’s a piece of theater everyone should see,” Tobin-Lehl promises. This exploration of envy and brotherhood strikes just the right notes, making it our other selection for classic entertainment this Friday night.
7:30 p.m. Friday. Continuing 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and September 28 and 29; 3 p.m. Sundays. Through September 30. Studio 101, 1824 Spring. For information call 832-786-1849 or visit 4thwalltheatreco.com. $15 to $49.
Forget The Walking Dead, it’s time to start jogging dead. Lake Jackson Lions Club and Creepy Hollow Haunted House are throwing together the ultimate zombie extravaganza with the ZombieFest 5K Fun Run/Walk and Festival, the perfect Venn diagram overlap for health nuts and dead heads, making this one of our recommendations for Saturday weirdness. “You have the option to either be a runner, [who] tries to survive the zombies,” says fest organizer Christie Lostracco, “or you can actually be a zombie, complete with special-effect makeup, and you have to capture the flag from the runners.” If you survive the wooded hike, you’ll be one of the top participants, who’ll be awarded a coveted “Survivor” trophy. If you’re one of the many who succumb to undead influence (i.e., you get all your flags ripped off by the walkers), you will still limp away a victor — with an official “Zombie” medal. Proceeds benefit local charities, including Texas Lions Camp, The Dream Center and Crystal Crackers. The run kicks off at 7 p.m., but come early and let the Creepy Hollow makeup team work their undead magic.
3 p.m. Saturday. MacLean Park, 93 Lake Road, Lake Jackson. For information, call 979-824-0599 or visit zombiefest.org. $25 to $35.
Beyond Minute Maid Park, Beyond Thunderdome, the artistic nonconformists in the East End are throwing a bit of a party — a ball, to be specific. But for this summer fundraiser, don’t dare dress in your Sunday best, for this is FrenetiCore’s Apocalypse Ball: Mad Max Edition. Inspired by the surprise summer hit turned Oscar darling, the ball welcomes lovers of performance art to a dystopian night of drinking, grub, dance and live music. Highlights include fortune tellers, Mad Max trivia, an all-new performance by FrenetiCore’s in-house dance ensemble, and live music by local band Space Aliens. And if you have a flair for the theatric yourself, get into the Halloween spirit early by dressing in your own Mad Max-inspired costume. Funds raised benefit the Houston Fringe Festival and The Pilot Theater’s Artist-in-Residence program. It’s a good cause, so don’t forget your silver spray paint when dressing for the ball this Saturday, and be sure to greet Valhalla with a smile.
8 p.m. Saturday. The Pilot on Navigation, 5102 Navigation. For information call 832-387-7440 or visit freneticore.net. $25 to $60.
Three masterpieces, each different from the others and all challenging. That’s the assessment Houston Ballet Principal dancer Karina Gonzalez made when asked about the upcoming mixed-repertory program, Director’s Choice: American Ingenuity, that the ballet is using to start this season. From the classical Balanchine ballet Theme and Variations to Jerome Robbins’s neoclassical Other Dances (originally designed for Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov) to the extreme movements of William Forsythe’s Artifact Suite, all three pieces require nearly perfect attention to form, she said. It will be the first time Gonzalez is doing any of them, and she is rehearsing for all three. “Theme is the most intense classical ballet I have done. It’s pure ballet technique, but also it’s the stamina. It’s almost 30 minutes doing the perfect technique,” she explains. Dancers will be performing to the music of Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Bach, and changing their costumes to match the style of dance. “It’s one of the most amazing programs I have danced,” she adds, making this season opener our other pick for this Saturday.
7:30 p.m. Saturday. Continuing 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through September 18. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $25 to $195.
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Houston Grand Opera studio artists have a chance to show everything they’ve got in the upcoming two performances of the HGO Studio Showcase, which kicks off this Sunday and includes selections from Faust, La bohème, Lucia di Lammermoor and Carmen. “This year I will do a scene as Romeo — it’s a pants role. I’ll also be performing the role of Concepcion in L’heure espagnole by Ravel; this seductive woman has multiple lovers — she cleverly hides them from not only each other but also from her husband. I’ll be a gypsy in Carmen and a nun,” says third-year studio artist Megan Mikailovna Samarin, laughing. “As a mezzo-soprano, I am often asked to sing pants roles — the role of a young boy that can be played by a woman. I find this interesting because I get to delve into inhabiting a body that’s so different from mine.” Samarin adds that the showcase benefits all participants because “it gives us insight into what roles are in our future.”
2:30 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. September 13. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $20 mezzanine.
Margaret Downing and Vic Shuttee contributed to this post.