This is one of those weeks where it's abundantly clear why Houston is such a great city in which to work and play. The work part is coming to an end, and we think dressing up for the Star Wars Art Festival and Free Comic Book Day should bring out the inner child in all of us, not to mention the wild and wacky hats for Kentucky Derby Day at the race track. We're digging the cultural festival over at Asia Society Texas Center, and, for thought-provoking stagecraft, don't miss The Christians over at the Alley; our theater reviewer D.L. Groover couldn't stop talking about it.
I don't know in what church actor Shawn Hamilton (a.k.a. associate pastor Joshua) will be preaching after he leaves the megachurch depicted in Lucas Hnath's The Christians, but I'll be there in my Sunday best as one of his new congregants. His Joshua has passion, conviction and fervor enough for a pulpit full of Billy Grahams and Joel Olsteens. Although only one out of five characters in Hnath's catholic dissection of Christianity – and not the play's primary role – Hamilton shakes the rafters, raises the roof and scares the bejesus out of this woeful sinner. If the rapture's coming, I want to be on his side. Pastor Joshua is all hellfire and brimstone and, truth be told, I may not believe anything he believes, but Hamilton's so almighty convincing that it's hard to disagree with him, and awfully hard not to admire him.
A current darling of the off-Broadway crowd, young playwright Hnath (pronounced “nayth”) knows his Bible, and he turns his play into a meta-sermon taking place in a sparkling-clean megachurch, like our own Lakewood down by Greenway Plaza. When main character pastor Paul (Richard Thieriot) begins his sermon, all hell breaks loose. Paul has had a conversion, an epiphany. Is he a contemporary St. Paul on the road to Damascus? Maybe, maybe not. There are layers, if not especially deep ones, in Hnath's own sermon. Hnath doesn't play favorites and doesn't tell us how to react since all opinions are treated with equal reverence. There are no villains, no heroes. Everything's open-ended, fit for a lively Sunday school symposium. The ending is appropriately ambiguous. As a play of ideas, The Christians leaves us with much to discuss, if little actual drama. Whether you're going to Hell or always wanted to play the harp, there's plenty to think about – you've got an eternity. There are still a few weeks left in its run, and we think catching The Christians this Friday night sounds good to us.
8 p.m. Friday. Continuing 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through May 15. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26 to $67.
It’s been four years since the glassed, clean-lined gem of the Museum District, the Asia Society Texas Center, opened to the public. It’s always worth a visit, especially this Saturday during AsiaFest 2016. The second annual shindig packs a heavy-hitting punch that includes martial-arts demos, traditional Japanese storytelling, various dance performances, and grub from Casian King, D’Lish Curbside Bistro, It’s a Wrap, Pho-Jita Fusion, Smoosh Cookies, Tila’s Taco Truck, Jade Stone Cafe and many more Asian and fusion food trucks. “Guests will find fusion cuisine, community performances, creative activities, exciting artwork and local vendors, all highlighting the vibrancy of Asian culture,” says Rose Rougeau, senior director of communication and audience engagement. Gina Gaston and Miya Shay of KTRK-TV take turns as mistresses of ceremonies; plus Yuriko Yamaguchi’s dizzying mixed-media sculptures and the “We Chat: A Dialogue in Contemporary Chinese Art” exhibit are on display inside the main building.
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. 1370 Southmore Boulevard. For information, call 713-496-9901 or visit asiasociety.org/texas. Free.
Sam Houston Race Park opens its doors early on Kentucky Derby Day so fans can watch the action from Churchill Downs and participate in an extravagant hat contest. “We open at 9 a.m. because we have people who watch all the Churchill Down races, as well as other races at other tracks through our simulcast feed,” says Jamie Nielson, director of marketing at Sam Houston Race Park. “We typically start at 6 p.m. on Saturdays, but that allows us to show the Kentucky Derby races on our big screen and our TVs in between our live races.” The best hats are big, bold and over-embellished, with patterns, feathers and bows. “A lot of people make their own hats and enter them in the contest. We’ve had kids enter, which is adorable, who’ve even made their own hats and really participated,” says Nielson. “Everyone who enters will get a chance to walk across our stage and be a part of the hat contest.” Three judges weigh in at 2 p.m. to name the winners, with prizes ranging from $150 to $500. It's time to see what all the fuss is about; put on those colorful hats and come out to the track this Saturday.
9 a.m. Saturday; live racing begins at 1 p.m. 7575 North Sam Houston Parkway West. For information, call 281-807-8700 or visit shrp.com. $7 to $11.
Bedrock City Comics is pulling out all the stops this Saturday, transforming the already-super-awesome Free Comic Book Day into a five-location extravaganza featuring cosplayers, sketch artists, the athletes-on-skates Yellow Rose Derby Girls and even live music, courtesy of School of Rock. Oh, and lest we forget the whole reason for the day, they're giving away 50,000 comic books. Kapow! “I'm estimating about 10,000 books at each store, and people will start lining up; each customer can get up to five books,” says Tiffany Cochran, Bedrock's director of marketing. “We have so much planned Saturday. For people who haven't discovered comic books yet, they can come out, pick up a few for free, and try them out and see what they want to pursue.” She says that with the success of recent blockbusters like Deadpool and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, plus all the buzz for Captain America: Civil War, people are realizing that the cinematic story lines all originated in comic books. All five locations are featuring cosplayers for photo ops, plus local Houston artists for sketching. Author and artist Maris Wicks (Spongebob Comics, DC and Marvel) is signing at the Westheimer location, while author and artist Mike Maihak (Cleopatra in Space) is sketching and signing at the Sugar Land store. The Yellow Rose Derby Girls are making an appearance in Sugar Land, and the School of Rock's house bands are performing at the FM 1960, Sugar Land and Clear Lake locations. Score!
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10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. 6516 Westheimer, 713-780-0675; 102 West Bay Area Boulevard, Webster (Clear Lake), 281-557-2748; 4683 FM 1960 West, 281-444-9763; 4602 Washington Avenue, Suite A, 713-862-0100; 4831 Highway 6, Missouri City (Sugar Land), 832-987-1994. For information, visit bedrockcity.com. Free.
You’re never too young or too old to wear Princess Leia’s signature hair buns, though General Leia Organa seems to have moved on. For the rest of us, it’s time to recharge those lightsabers because costumes are definitely encouraged at the 5th Annual Star Wars Art Festival: Revenge of the Fifth. “Every year we have little Leias and Yodas come out, and kids 12 and under are free,” says Dom Bam, creative director of organizer War’hous Visual Studios. “It started as an art show and over the years we started getting more music acts, more food trucks and more vendors,” says Bam. Last year the organizers realized they couldn’t do it all in one day, so now it’s a two-day festival with more than 100 Star Wars-inspired artists and about 50 vendors. As Yoda would say, "Happy that makes us," because the festival looks like the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Be sure to check out the work by local tattooist Catfish. “He does these tiny pieces on rolling papers and frames them,” says Bam. “You have to see the level of detail this guy has; he’s got sort of skull faces for everything.”
The festival is noon to 6 p.m. Sunday and Saturday, May 7; visit the Facebook event page for more information. There’s a VIP party from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, May 6; it has its own Facebook event page. 4300 Harrisburg. For information, call 832-768-9515 or visit warhous.com. Free to $25.
D.L. Groover, Steve Jansen and Bill Simpson contributed to this post.