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Best Bets This Weekend: Communists in Texas, Women Rockers, and Acrobats

The Formosa Quartet comes to Houston, courtesy of the University of Houston’s Beethoven 250 Houston 2020 festival, for open rehearsals, masterclasses and concerts.EXPAND
The Formosa Quartet comes to Houston, courtesy of the University of Houston’s Beethoven 250 Houston 2020 festival, for open rehearsals, masterclasses and concerts.
Photo by Sam Zauscher

For those of you still suffering from a post-Valentine’s hangover, we’d like to offer a few potential remedies for your ills this weekend. Whether you’re interested in a heavy family drama or a toe-tapping musical, punk rock or Beethoven, vampires or acrobats, we’ve got you covered.

In a city that’s to be overrun with Beethoven-philes for the next two weeks, surely there’s at least one person here who agrees that Ludwig von Beethoven’s greatest contribution to humanity comes from inspiring Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band’s “A Fifth of Beethoven,” right? Regardless, experts, master musicians, and classical aficionados will descend on the University of Houston’s Beethoven 250 Houston 2020, a two-week celebration in honor of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. As part of the festivities, the Formosa Quartet (Che-Yen Chen, Wayne Lee, Jasmine Lin and Deborah Pae) will swing by for a week-long residency, a stop that includes a “best bet” worthy concert at Asia Society Texas Center on Thursday. From East to West with the Formosa Quartet includes one work by Beethoven (String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 18 No. 6) and a Formosa-commissioned work from Wei-Chieh Lin (Taiwanese Folk Songs). If you’re not able to catch the concert (and missed the open rehearsals and masterclasses they put on this week), you can still catch them on Saturday, February 22, at UH’s Dudley Recital Hall.

From East to West with the Formosa Quartet is scheduled for 7 p.m. February 20 at Asia Society Texas Center, 1370 Southmore. For more information, call 713-496-9901 or visit asiasociety.org. $20 to $30.

Kyle Ramar Freeman as Asaka and Courtnee Carter as Ti Moune in the North American Tour of Once On This Island.EXPAND
Kyle Ramar Freeman as Asaka and Courtnee Carter as Ti Moune in the North American Tour of Once On This Island.
Photo by Joan Marcus

You never know from where inspiration may spring – sometimes, it pops up while browsing through a bookstore and you can take it home with you for less than two bucks. So is the origin story of Once On This Island, which began when Lynn Ahrens picked up a copy of Rosa Guy’s 1985 book My Love, My Love, or The Peasant Girl. Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (a songwriting team you may recognize from other hit shows like Anastasia, Seussical, and Ragtime) took the tale, a tropical island-set retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” and turned it into a production that debuted on Broadway in 1990. In the musical, villagers gather round to tell the story of Ti Moune, the renamed peasant girl of Guy’s story, who falls in love with a wealthy islander from the “other side of the tracks.” If you’re familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen version of this story, then you can probably foresee the uplift and heartbreak that awaits. One thing we can promise, though, is an award-worthy good time; after all, the revival production that graces the Hobby Center stage took home the Tony Award® for Best Revival of a Musical in 2018. Read the preview here.

Performances of Once On This Island are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. Through March 1. For more information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com. $40 to $129.

If you didn’t know Hari Kondabolu before, he probably caught your attention after his 2017 documentary, The Problem with Apu. The stand-up comic from Queens, who wrote and starred in the doc, used his TruTV platform to explore the portrayal of South Asian characters – like Apu Nahasapeemapetilon – and the often negative effects it had on the lives of real South Asian and South Asian-American people. If you somehow missed it, you can probably imagine how critically thinking about an American institution like The Simpsons could generate a lot of chatter. Kondabolu is no stranger to attacking heavy subject matter through humor – just go stream some old episodes of Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell to see it in early, bite-size bits or check out his recent, 2018 Netflix special Warn Your Relatives. And note, it’s not just all politics and social justice, as Kondabolu has started to delve into the personal, too, so there’s no telling just where his incisive satire will go when he stops by The Secret Group for two shows on Friday.

Hari Kondabolu is scheduled to perform at 7 and 9 p.m. February 21 at The Secret Group, 2101 Polk. For more information, call 832-898-1088 or visit thesecretgrouphtx.com. $20 to $25.

Dirt Dogs Theatre Co. will stage Angus MacLachlan's brutal family drama The Dead Eye Boy.EXPAND
Dirt Dogs Theatre Co. will stage Angus MacLachlan's brutal family drama The Dead Eye Boy.
Photo by Gary Griffin

Playwright and screenwriter Angus MacLachlan told Forbes in 2017 that what motivates him “most as an artist is changing the way Southerners are portrayed in film and on television," and his perceptive portrayal of the North Carolina-residing characters in his 2005 film Junebug, a critical darling and indie sleeper, exemplifies his approach best. The film earned a four-star review from the most important film critic of his generation and gave one of America’s sweethearts (Amy Adams) her breakthrough role. It’s almost hard to imagine that guy is the same guy who penned the brutal family drama The Dead Eye Boy, for which the Washington Post described him as “another poet of junk food and trashy impulses — you could call it the theater of the double-wide.” Dirt Dogs Theatre Co. will open the regional premiere of this raw, grimy tale this weekend but be warned: As Variety said in a spoiler-filled review in 2001, “MacLachlan’s play isn’t for the squeamish, but then, tragic stories delivered at such an unrelenting fever pitch rarely are.”

Performances of The Dead Eye Boy are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and March 2, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays at The MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, call 713-521-4533 or visit dirtdogstheatre.org. Pay what you can (matinees and Industry Night) to $25.

A colorful spectacle awaits Houstonians when the Peking Acrobats come to town.EXPAND
A colorful spectacle awaits Houstonians when the Peking Acrobats come to town.
Photo by Tom Meinhold

If there’s one thing you can always count on, it’s that you’ll always find something in the Guinness World Records that makes you say, “That’s not a thing … hmm … I guess that’s a thing.” Today, that thing will be the record for tallest human chair stack, which was set by the Peking Acrobats in 1999. The professional acrobatic troupe created a chair stack that towered at 21 feet high made up of six people and seven chairs, but that really just scratches the surface of the impressive feats the group is capable of doing. The group has been touring North America for more than 20 years, and to see them is to see gymnasts, contortionists, tumblers, jugglers, trick-cyclists and more performing to a score played by live musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments. Be prepared to be amazed. (Society for the Performing Arts is bringing the Peking Acrobats to town, and they've posted a note on their website for anyone who might harbor any specific, virus-related concerns. Spoiler: It's totally fine.)

The Peking Acrobats are scheduled to perform at 3 and 8 p.m. at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For more information, call 713-227-4772 or visit spahouston.org. $29 to $59.

If Genghis Barbie’s oh-too-brief appearance on America’s Got Talent didn’t inspire at least a Google search back in 2012, you’ve been missing out on some fun, brassy takes on seemingly everything from Bowie to Beyoncé. ROCO will bring one-fourth of Genghis Barbie, French hornist Danielle Kuhlmann, to town for Unraveled, the latest entry in their Unchambered series. Kuhlmann will share her own story through a curated program that will include Mozart, Chaplin, a ROCO co-commissioned premiere by Jim Stephenson, and Kuhlmann’s own brother, Evan, who composed a piece in honor of one of his sister’s first teachers/mentors. Kuhlmann will be joined by ROCO musicians Gavin Reed (horn), Alecia Lawyer (oboe) and Andreea Mu? (piano) for the late-afternoon/early evening concert, but the horn will be center stage for this one. In fact, you should plan to bring any and all horn-related questions for a Q&A with Kuhlmann. Early birds should also plan to grab a glass of wine at the pre-concert reception at 4:30 p.m. And, if you absolutely can’t make it, you can always stream the program live.

ROCO Unchambered: Unraveled is scheduled for 5 p.m. February 22 at The MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, call 713-665-2700 or visit roco.org. $15 to $25.

Lazer Kittenz at the 2019 Women Rock!, a benefit concert for Mildred's Umbrella.EXPAND
Lazer Kittenz at the 2019 Women Rock!, a benefit concert for Mildred's Umbrella.
Photo by Pin Lim

Did you know that only 7.7 percent of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees are women? Or that of the 600 songs surveyed on the Billboard Hot 100 from 2012 to 2017, only 22.4 percent were performed by women? (It only gets worse when you add in things like songs written or produced by women.) Reading statistics like this is kind of like eating your vegetables, but sometimes it’s important to know where we stand to truly appreciate how special something is, like Women Rock! The fundraising concert will benefit women-centric theater company Mildred’s Umbrella with a night of all-female or female-fronted bands. Houston punk rock veterans Mydolls will headline the concert, which includes tween duo Lazer Kittenz, one of Houston's 10 Best Acts Under 21 Years Old, returning for their third consecutive appearance, as is alt-rock power trio Quinn the Brain. Also on the bill are Alli Villines and her trusty ukulele, punk quartet Branagan, and accordion cover band Houston’s A.S.S. along with first-time participants Julia Marie, ACIDPUSSY, and Nobody's Daughter, a group of Girls Rock Camp alums who will open the show at 6:15 p.m. Read the preview here.

Women Rock! is scheduled for 6 p.m. on February 22 at Rudyard’s British Pub, 2010 Waugh. For more information, visit mildredsumbrella.com. $20.

When truth was definitely stranger than fiction.
When truth was definitely stranger than fiction.
Photo by Pin Lim

We all probably remember the time Magda Yitchinson, Czechoslovakian cousin of Stan Zbornak, visited The Golden Girls on a 1990 episode and maintained that under communism “the choices were easy” and “when there is one road, no one gets lost.” (Back then, pre- and post-fall, it was practically a trope to have visitors from the Eastern bloc to pop in America to be equal parts judgmental and amazed.) One person who disagreed was Boris Yeltsin, who was famously mesmerized by the choices available in a Clear Lake Randall’s during a 1989 visit to Texas – just get a load of his reaction to the ice cream aisle, packed full of Nestlé’s Drumsticks and Jell-O Pudding Pops. Evan Mack (music) and Joshua McGuire (libretto) dramatize this world-altering 20 minute grocery store stop in Yeltsin in Texas. The funny chamber opera is sure to please ‘80s enthusiasts and opera lovers alike as it opens Opera in the Heights’ (Oh!) New Works Festival, which also includes a double bill of two more world premieres, The Leader and Kassandra. Read the preview here.

Performances of Yeltsin in Texas are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. February 22 and 28, and 2 p.m. March 1 at Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights. For more information, call 713-861-5303 or visit operaintheheights.org. $39 to $89.

The evening of February 9 (the night of the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony, if you’ve already forgotten) was a busy one for Taika Waititi. Not only did he nab the Oscar for best adapted screenplay for Jojo Rabbit (a film he also directed and starred in as Adolf Hitler), which seems to have made him the first Maori filmmaker to take home a gold statue, he quite inspiringly dedicated his award to indigenous children, recognized the indigenous people who populated the land the Dolby Theatre now sits on, and also stored the award under a seat and demanded change in Apple keyboards. He also chilled the next day with his Oscar while watching a Harry Potter movie. If that doesn’t help sum up Waititi’s sensibilities for you, check out What We Do in the Shadows, his 2014 vampire mockumentary, presented courtesy of the Movies Houstonians Love series over at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Two Star Symphony has chosen the film, which the Chicago Reader called a "pitch-perfect spoof of MTV’s The Real World and a sly satire on millennial slackerdom.”

What We Do in the Shadows is scheduled for 5 p.m. February 23 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For more information, call 713-639-7515 or visit mfah.org. $7 to $9.

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