The Five Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Barbarians and a Film Festival

Tickets for the critically acclaimed Wolf Hall are getting snapped up faster than discounted Halloween candy, and there are a few tickets left for this weekend, but only for those who move quickly. Also on deck is the Barbarian Invasion at the Texas RenFest, the shopping mecca Nutcracker Market and a return of the Time Warp in TUTS's The Rocky Horror Show. And don't miss the weeklong Houston Cinema Arts Festival, with flicks scheduled at almost a dozen locations, workshops, artist talks and more.

Thomas Cromwell rose from nothing to become a very powerful court minister during King Henry VIII’s reign. As the play Wolf Hall makes clear, one of the essential ingredients in his accomplishing this was keeping up with the latest gossip — and if you think it was all about fashion, you don’t understand the times. Taken from Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, the two-part play — having its regional premiere at Main Street Theater — “is a wonderful study of how your soul can get subverted even with the best of intentions,” says Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden. There’s also humor as the king tries to rid himself of Catherine of Aragon so that he can move on to Anne Boleyn and then Jane Seymour and everyone else tries not to get hit by any shrapnel. “[Cromwell] takes care of people, but he’s also a scorekeeper and a vengeful man and as the play goes on, the requirements of staying on top in the back-and-forth of the politics of the court begin to corrupt him pretty thoroughly.” This critic's favorite is full of drama, intrigue and amazing costumes, making it one of our recommendations for this Friday.

7:30 p.m. Friday. Part I and Part 2 alternate by week and then daily during the run. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through December 18. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times. For information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. $10 to $45.

Update your naughty or nice lists, because it’s time for the largest holiday shopping event in Texas. The theme for this year’s Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market is “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” apropos with more than 300 merchants selling food, clothing, jewelry and home decor. Don’t miss the Macy’s Fashion Show and Brunch this Friday, with holiday clothes for men, women and children. The $135 fashion show tickets come with some perks: “You get in at 9 a.m. before the general doors open,” says Mary Alice Parmet, this year’s chair. “You get an hour of early shopping and you go and have lunch, visit; [it’s] just a good break from shopping.” Start your gift shopping this Friday and check out the popular accessories from The Round Top Collection, holiday decorations from Clutter Yule Love and the legendary Donne Di Domani marinara sauce. Tickets are discounted if purchased online or three hours prior to closing, but don't skimp because it's all for a good cause: Proceeds benefit the Houston Ballet Foundation and its Academy and scholarship programs.

10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. November 12 and 13. NRG Center, One NRG Park. For information, call 713-535-3231 or visit nutcrackermarket.com. $18 to $50; free for children 5 and under.

Pierre Alexandre admits to being a little anxious. He is making his debut in the iconic role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Theatre Under The Stars' production of The Rocky Horror Show and knows about the cultlike following the comic rock opera engenders. The basic plot is, of course, lean and sexy: A newly engaged young couple set off on a trip; their car breaks down and they enter the doctor’s strange mansion. Frank-N-Furter, who happens to be an alien from Transsexual, Transylvania, introduces them to other bizarre characters. Alexandre, who was born in Haiti and has performed musical theater all over Europe, describes himself as “a bit of [an] exotic character,” so he didn’t have trouble with that part of the role. What’s really killed him, he says, “is having to stand and dance in heels.” Audience members also have a chance to get up close and personal; it’s being staged in the Hobby Center’s smaller Zilkha Hall. Upgrading to the VIP onstage experience gets cabaret seating, a prop bag, table service and the opportunity to dance the Time Warp onstage with the cast. It sounds like a blast, making this our pick for Saturday night.

7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Continuing 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Through November 20. 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com. $39 to $250.

Sirs and ladies — grab your swords and wine sacks, for jousting is upon us. The Texas Renaissance Festival has been going strong for 42 years now and, as the days continue to get cooler, Houston’s coolest land of fantasy is lowering its drawbridges and taking us back to days of yore with plenty of family-friendly fun, and just the right touch of bawdiness. This weekend brings the Barbarian Invasion: Imagine that the Great Horde has swept in from distant lands to join the King and Queen in a barbaric romp of debauchery and uncivilized fun — which is our idea for a great time this Saturday or Sunday. The worst-dressed Barbarian costume contest is set for 2 p.m. in the arena this weekend, followed by the ubiquitous turkey leg eating contest at 4 p.m. in the New Market Music Gazebo. “We’ve got over 400 shops, a variety of food areas, 21 stages with over 200 performances every day, music, juggling, acrobatics, all across about 55 acres of land,” says Travis Bryant, the fest’s marketing director. “Between all that, there’s more to see and do than anyone could do in one day.” The remaining themed weekends are Highland Fling (November 19-20) and Celtic Christmas (November 25-27). Consider extending your stay to partake in the sensuous delights of the adults-only TRF After Dark, held every Saturday evening through November 26. Prices range from $20 to $600, with upgrades available for VIP seating, a buffet and suites.

9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and November 25. Through November 27. 21778 FM 1774, Todd Mission. For information, call 800-458-3435 or visit texrenfest.com. $15 to $30.

Director Celia Rowlson-Hall admits it’s been more than a year since she’s seen her debut feature, Ma. It’s an American Southwest-set retelling of Mother Mary’s pilgrimage told completely through movement, and, yes, that means no dialogue. “It was such an emotional experience that I can’t really go through it again,” says Rowlson-Hall. Borne from what she calls a “self-imposed” fascination with religion, Ma is far from your typical narrative and, Rowlson-Hall says, is extremely personal. In town for the weeklong Houston Cinema Arts Festival, she is joining other women filmmakers; about half of the films this year are directed or co-directed by women. Ma screens at 6:40 p.m. Saturday and 4:15 p.m. Sunday. Other Sunday highlights include the knit narrative Yarn and, over at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Wangechi Mutu’s The End of Carrying All and the Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone vehicle La La Land (sold out). This annual film festival has a lot of moving parts — from guest appearances to lectures to immersive experiences — putting this on our list for this Sunday and through November 17.

3:45 and 4:15 p.m. Sunday, Sundance Houston, 510 Texas; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Brown Auditorium. November 10-17. For information about all film offerings and venues, view the related events at the bottom of this post or call 713-429-0420 or visit hcaf16.org. Free to $600.

Natalie de la Garza, Margaret Downing and Vic Shuttee contributed to this post.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney