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Top 5 Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Cakeless Dancers, Magical Doors, Killer Puppets and More

Fresh off their uplifting arts-for-all children's program say please and thank you, Hope Stone Dance Company presents i was told there would be cake, one of our choices for Friday. Fans of the video game Portal might have more insight than the average dance-goer about the cake in question. As the catchphrase goes, the cake is a lie. "We are told there's going to be cake," explains Artistic Director Jane Weiner. "But what if there is no cake?"

One of the new works is fandango, a piece for the company's male contingent. It's a multilayered dance, one that's been in gestation for nearly 15 years. "Joe Modlin, who's danced for me forever, remembered years ago that I wanted to do a [male] quintet. One guy broke his knee and another went into rehab, so the piece ended up being two men and a woman. The first day of rehearsal, Joe told me that I wanted to do this in 2000, so it's been in my psyche," explains Weiner.

8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Houston Ballet Center for Dance, 601 Preston. For information, call 713-526-1907 or visit hopestoneinc.org. $20.

It's the year 2024, and Phoebe walks through the wrong hotel door and into a world of danger. She meets another woman, Ruella, and together they try to stop someone from being killed, as they flip back and forth through time. Alley Theatre Artistic Director Gregory Boyd, who describes the comedy Communicating Doors, one of our choices for Friday, as "Back to the Future meets Hitchcock," says the science fiction format allows playwright Alan Ayckbourn a wonderful way in which to write allegorical stories. "On one level it's an 'old dark house' thriller where women in their nightclothes are failing to turn on the lights even though they know there is something in the dark that means them harm. On another level, it is Ruella and Phoebe's developing friendship -- the Head meets the Heart and they join forces against the dark. And it's also a battle for the young girl's soul. And then it's a comedy, too -- but the comedy grows out of the tension of the thriller element. The women are in real danger. So it's a romance, a comedy, a sci-fi adventure story. It's a play about "what if" -- a time-travel tale concealed in a morality play."

"The women in this play are the central figures -- and the men create the problems, sometimes very frightening ones. The women are thrust into the heroine roles and they have to outthink and outsmart and outmaneuver the darker forces represented by the male characters. They are the true definition of heroes, I think, putting everything at risk," says Boyd, who's been wanting to do another Ayckbourn play for years, ever since House & Garden in 2002.

When originally written, in 1994, Communicating Doors covered the years 1974 to 2014. "When Ayckbourn revived the play recently, he changed the times in which the play takes place to 2034, 2014, and 1994 -- with 2034 being "the present" -- there is a dystopian element, with civil war in London, the landscape rearranged and virtual sex having arrived," Boyd says.

Julie Sharbutt (making her Alley debut) plays Phoebe, while Alley favorite Josie de Guzman plays Ruella. Resident company members Jeffrey Bean, James Black, Melissa Pritchett and Todd Waite round out the cast.

See Communicating Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through April 27. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26 to $78. This story continues on the next page.

Puppet Master by videographer Ted Irving, Voice Media Group on Vimeo.

There's no better annual showcase for Houston's spectacular puppeteer scene than Puppetsploitation presented by Bobbindoctrin. This weekend is the festival's tenth outing. The festival, one of our choices for Saturday, features live puppet plays and films that range from the creepy to the absolutely hilarious. Carmella Clements and Larkin Elliot debut two shadow-puppet satires at this year's festival, including Frogophobia, which is about the late, great Marvin Zindler. "I've been fascinated with MZ since childhood," said Clements via email. "His perfect balance of eccentricity and commitment to defending the little guy make him a perfect subject for puppetry. He's a Houston folk hero."

Joel Orr, the founder of Bobbindoctrin and the de facto majordomo of the Houston puppet-artist community, will also be working in shadow puppets this year with Problem Solver, in which a bold man sacrifices his life and family in a brave and tireless effort to imagine a better world.

Among the films being screened during Puppetsploitation is Chris Thompson's Blood is Love. (That's Chris Thompson in the above video by videographer Ted Irving showing us how he assembles his puppet creations.)

The title Blood is Love sounds a little violent, doesn't it? It should. It's part of the Puppet Slasher Film Festival, a segment of horror shorts being offered by various members of the artist concern Sketchy Neighbors. Anthony Butkovich's Kites Are Fun, Brenda Cruz's (silence) and Colin Kaeppel's The Melancholy Psycho Murders, Surfer Girl Detective Story complete the slasher line-up.

See puppets gone wild at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Midtown Arts Center, 3414 La Branch. For information, call 713-259-1304 or visit bobbindoctrin.wordpress.com. $13.

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On Saturday get a taste of Japanese culture at the Japan Festival: The Way of Japan. Though modest in scale, it's a weekend filled with art, music, food and cosplay. The festival features a rare treat, Rakugo artist Katsura Sunshine. Born in Toronto, he is one of only two Westerners ever to master the art, a mix of storytelling and stand-up comedy. Alone on a simple stage with only a fan and a small cloth to use as props, Sunshine tells a long, comedic story in which he plays all the characters through subtle shifts in tone of voice and posture. Houston's own J-Pop sensation Sugar Joiko is also on the schedule. She was studying music in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit; she was displaced to Houston and has become a popular fixture on YouTube with her high-energy dance tunes. Kyoto's Aya Uchida will also be here. Teamed with producer and guitar player Jo Yamanaka, Uchida is a perfect example of the J-Country scene, putting out amazing Taylor Swift-esque compositions that mix the best of East and West.

There's also a cosplay contest enabling the crafty to pit their video game and anime costumes against one another. The competition is expected to be fierce, because the winner gets a trip to Japan.

Enjoy Japan Festival: The Way of Japan at 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Hermann Park, 6000 Fannin. For information, call 713‑963‑0121 or visit japan-fest.info. Free.

He's a god, in fact the ruler of the gods, but he's got only one eye (he gave the other one up to gain wisdom in a trade that occurred before this opera starts). In Das Rheingold, our choice for Sunday, he's a rash young man, still far from what Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson describes as "the old man raging against the dying of the light" that he'll become by the fourth part of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle. Paterson is singing the Wotan role in the first-ever Houston Grand Opera production of this classic work (and one that continues in the next three seasons after this). The story, filled with fantastic sights, is far from simple, but on the most basic level: There's an evil dwarf who takes the Rhinemaidens' gold after they've made fun of him and told him it can be used to make a ring that will control the world. Soon enough, everyone, including Wotan, wants this ring, which then has a curse laid on it by the dwarf. Oh, and there are giants, too; they've just finished building Wotan's new castle. This co-production of Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, and Maggio Musicale, Florence, involves a lot of heavy lifting and calls for Paterson to be onstage continuously for two hours.

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"It's tremendously expensive to stage. It's not so much the gods, it's all the trappings that come with them. The sets, the cranes. The cranes are what we call the delivery system of the gods, instead of horses. If you imagine enormous movie-camera booms, platforms on the end of them, and the gods stand on those, so we are literally looking down on everybody else and we've each got two crane operators," Paterson says. In many modern productions, Wotan's one-eyeness is demonstrated by having the singer wear a contact lens. "I can't wear them," Paterson says, laughing. "I think they're to give me some sort of prosthetic which from a distance is going to resemble an eye socket or an eye."

And then there's the little matter of a show with a running time of two and a half to two hours and 45 minutes with no intermission. But Paterson insists it's worth it with glorious music. "It's complicated and it's dark and it will draw you in. I think it's kind of a bucket-list thing. It's something that everybody should experience at least once in their life because it's a unique art form within the art form of opera."

See Das Rheingold at 7:30 p.m. April 11, 17, 23 and 26, 2 p.m. April 13. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713‑228‑6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $15 to $406.25.

Adam Castañeda, Jef With One F and Margaret Downing contributed to this post.

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