Around the State Edited by Quita McMath, Josh Daniel, Erin Gromen, and Cheri Ballew summary:

The Smithsonian Institution takes its show on the road (Houston). Plus: Yuletide celebrations that hold a candle (San Antonio); the Tokyo String Quartet gets caught in the fiddle (Fort Worth and Houston); where to meet ghosts in a dark Alley (Houston); and small towns light up for Christmas (Central Texas). Edited by Quita McMath, Josh Daniel, Erin Gromen, and Cheri Ballew.


It’s an Institution

From the top hat Abraham Lincoln supposedly wore at Ford’s Theatre to the Mercury capsule that carried Alan Shepard into space, the Smithsonian Institution holds the archives of American culture. Recognizing that not everyone can make it to Washington, D.C., to explore its collection of more than 140 million objects relating to science, art, and history, the museum’s directors are doing something extraordinary to celebrate its 150th anniversary: They are taking the show on the road. Beginning December 6, Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center will host “America’s Smithsonian,” an exhibit of more than two hundred items representing the best of the Institution’s holdings. There’s a gleaming, futuristic Tucker automobile (below)—one of only 51 ever produced—and a decidedly unfuturistic-looking phaser from the original Star Trek TV series. There are Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and the elegant inaugural gowns worn by, among others, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, and Barbara Bush. And finally, there are the boxing gloves that served Muhammad Ali for his famous 1974 Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman—which is fitting, because this treasure trove of historical artifacts and pop-culture kitsch is the greatest. Erin Gromen


Antonio’s Line

There’s more to Christmas than snowmen, elves, and red-suited Santas, and when it comes to offering another take on the winter holidays, few cities in Texas outdo San Antonio. Every year it brims with enchanting cultural celebrations: Over three weekends this month, for instance, Fiesta de las Luminarias sees the River Walk lined with more than 2,500 candles, symbolically guiding Joseph and Mary toward Bethlehem. Candles also play a big part in Las Posadas, a festive holiday procession in which children costumed as members of the Holy Family search for an inn (this year they’ll make their way from La Mansión del Rio to the Arneson River Theatre). And, as always, Mission San José hosts Los Pastores, an ancient play about the shepherds who travel to see the baby Jesus and must match wits with Lucifer and his demons along the way. The drama dates from medieval Spain and was brought to the New World by Franciscan friars to teach the story of Christmas to Native Americans; this version, performed in Spanish with English narration, has been presented by parishioners from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and staged at the mission since 1945. Josh Daniel


Last Call

The Tokyo String Quartet, famous for 27 years of precise performances of a vast repertoire, is engaged in a serious game of musical chairs. First violinist Peter Oundjian (below left), a fifteen-year veteran of the group, is suffering from an occupational hazard of busy violinists—nerve damage to his left hand—and following the TSQ’s performance in Houston this month, he will bow out to teach and conduct. Waiting in the wings, though, is the replacement of the quartet’s dreams: Mikhail Kopelman, who has been the first violinist with Moscow’s renowned Borodin Quartet since 1976. The two groups got to know each other in 1994, when Vienna hosted two series of the complete quartets of classical master Beethoven (played by the Tokyo) and modern master Shostakovich (played by the Borodin). Violinist Kikuei Ikeda (top middle, with violist Kazuhide Isomura and cellist Sadao Harada) recalls, “We heard Kopelman and admired his playing but had no idea he might be available.” It turned out that Kopelman had moved with his family to New York and was ready for a change; they also offered him the use of one of four Stradivarius instruments recently loaned to them by the Japan Music Foundation. In the meantime, fans of Oundjian may wish him farewell when he makes his final appearances with the TSQ, in Fort Worth on December 3 and in Houston on December 5. Chester Rosson


The Taming of the Scrooge

When Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol in 1843, he never imagined the countless treacly, Disney-esque stage adaptations that would follow. That’s because he wrote a ghost story designed to scare the, er, dickens out of his readers. But it wasn’t the Christmas spirit so much as Halloween that guided director Michael Wilson when he adapted the Alley Theatre’s version of this perennial seven years ago. For this Carol, which stars audience favorites James Black, Jeffrey Bean, John Feltch (left, holding Joseph Guerro), Bettye Fitzpatrick, and Shelley Williams, special effects transform the Alley into a sort of high-tech haunted house peopled by chain-dragging ghosts of the unfortunate souls once ill-treated by Ebenezer Scrooge. If the threat of empty stockings doesn’t encourage good behavior, perhaps an encounter with the hulking, robotic Spirit of Christmas Future will. Though four-year-olds have enjoyed this production, the Alley warns that it may be an intense experience for children who are easily frightened. Another caveat: Don’t wait until next year, as this may be the last time Wilson’s version will be staged. Shaila Dewan


O Little Towns

Ever since the Wise Men followed the Star of Bethlehem, people have sought out holiday lights come Christmastime. Two thousand years later, Suburbans have replaced camels as the transportation of choice and incandescent lights stand in for the celestial, but contemporary wise men and women can still find solace from the holiday bustle in the unhurried charms of small-town celebrations. All this month, Central Texas offers miles of lights and scores of yuletide events spread among dozens of communities. You’ll need two evenings to take in all the sights of the Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Tour, which encompasses eleven towns from Lampasas to Bulverde and Fredericksburg to Dripping Springs. (Don’t miss the Blanco County courthouse, above, which will be decorated with 100,000 lights.) You can spend another evening basking in the Lights of the Blackland, a tour that leads you to illuminated displays in Taylor and seven other neighboring towns just northeast of Austin, for more seasonal spirit. Best of all, you can leave the frankincense and myrrh at home. Cheri Ballew