Press Picks

September 11
Hapgood Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, produced in 1967, set his career as a playwright in motion, and he hasn't looked back since. Hapgood, a suspense thriller, takes place during cold war London in the days of British intelligence and counterintelligence. Rebecca Greene Udden, Main Street Theater's founding artistic director, plays Elizabeth Hapgood, master spy and single mother, who must find the double agent while keeping her own life going steady -- and any single mother will tell you that's hard even for non-spies. Opens tonight at 7:30 p.m., and runs through October 12. (See Thrills, Theater for other show times.) Main Street Theater at Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose, 524-6706. $12-$17.

Ballroom Dancing If you're spending Thursday evenings cradled on the couch watching TV, eating ice cream and grunting to your loved ones, Town & Country Mall might have the medicine you need. Just the wonderfully exotic names of these dances, like the rumba and the cucaracha, will start your imagination down the road toward romantic evenings of slow, giggling whispers. Get up and actually make the moves these dances require, and you and your sweetie are bound to see that couch in a whole new light. Singles and couples of all ages are invited to learn the steps in classes taught by Dance Arts. Partners not required; dance classes meet every Thursday through September. 7-9 p.m. Town & Country Mall, 800 West Sam Houston Parkway North, Mrs. Fields's Court, 468-1565. $10.

September 12
Weekend of Texas Contemporary Dance Put ex-Houston Ballet dancers together with members of Fly, an all-male urban dance troupe, and throw in some Tracy Chapman tunes. You'll get what's on the dance program tonight at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Producer Christina Giannelli, resident lighting designer for the Houston Ballet, has brought together this eclectic group of performers and choreographers and made an evening of dance that promises to be unusual, strange and perhaps even beautiful. Rocking chairs and a giant teeter-totter become metaphors of risk and balance during one dance. In another piece, entitled "Diary of a Mad Domestic," housework becomes an urgent dance, and dance becomes funny (or so the choreographers hope). 8 p.m. Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive, 520-3290. Free.

False Prophets (or Just Dang Good Guessers) One reviewer described this weird but intriguing performance as a "vanguard hoedown," and so it is: a combination of music, art and old-fashioned Southern storytelling, blended by a wildly diverse foursome. Amy Denio has composed avant-garde music for John Cage and Italian national radio; jazz saxophonist Jessica Lurie has played with everyone from the West African group Mii Shae to the Billy Tipton Memorial Sax Quartet; and the Shaking Ray Levis are two guys with homemade instruments and stories influenced by their Tennessee homeland. Expect the four to collaborate on tales such as "Confederate General Robert E. Lee vs. the Vegetarians." Tonight and Saturday at 9 p.m. The Orange Show, 2401 Munger, 228-0914. (In case of inclement weather, performances will be at DiverseWorks, 1117 E. Freeway.) $13; $11, seniors and students; $10, DiverseWorks and Orange Show members.

Van Cliburn Gold Medal Winner Anyone who's listened to KUHF this past month has probably heard the recordings of past winners of the Van Cliburn Gold Medal Award. The contest, held only every four years, is considered one of the most prestigious of the piano-playing world, the Olympics for young concert pianists. Jon Nakamatsu is this year's winner, the first American in 16 years to receive the gold medal. He did so by playing Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto so well that one critic called the performance "the most thrilling musical moment" of his life. Tonight, at the opening of the Society for the Performing Arts season, you too can know this thrill; Nakamatsu's recital program will include music by Muzio Clementi, Chopin and Franz Liszt. 8 p.m. Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 227-ARTS. $20-$31.

The Ensemble Theatre Opening Gala The Ensemble Theatre opens its season in a brand-new space. And they are so rightfully excited about it, they are spending the weekend celebrating. Tonight, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, performers galore will be on hand to get the space off to a good start. At 8:30 and 10:30, Broadway singer/dancer Ben Vereen will take center stage. Meanwhile, a group of Alley Theatre actors will perform on the smaller stage. Out in the reception area, the HSPVA string quartet will be playing. And if all that isn't enough, the Ebony Opera Guild will be strolling around the compound, singing their hearts out for you. Dinner and a champagne reception are part of this black-tie affair. 7 p.m. (See Thrills, Theater for other grand-opening events.) The Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 520-0055. $125.

September 13
The Art of Brewing Listen up, beer aficionados! Your day has arrived. Representatives of microbreweries from around the country will descend upon Houston this weekend, and they want you to taste their wares. The beer makers not only want you to sample the beer, they want to know your opinions. Simply move from table to table, tasting what beer has become in the '90s, and cast your vote for the People's Choice Award, to be named Sunday. Professional beer makers and beer tasters (good work if you can get it) will be on hand, too; suds celebrities include Pierre Celis. Food will be on hand, and musical performers include the Flying Fish Sailors, whose sea chanteys seem so right for an afternoon of beer drinking. Noon-8 p.m. (See Thrills for other times and dates.) Garden in the Heights, 3926 Feagan, 880-1065. $20 buys you a cup and a judging pass.