Mary Karr: When you consider the continued media backlash against revealing your troubled childhood, it's remarkable that award-winning writer Mary Karr earned such unanimous praise for her searing memoir The Liar's Club. Most likely, Karr's fierce rejection of sentiment and her unexpected flashes of humor in this tale of small-town Texas family hell wowed the naysayers into submission. Karr appears at 7:30 p.m. as part of the "Distinguished Writers" series of Arts & Letters Live at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood. The show is sold out, but released tickets go on sale 45 minutes before the show. Call 922-1200. Karr also speaks Friday at noon at the Friends of the Dallas Public Library's annual meeting, which takes place on the Seventh floor of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, 1515 Young St. For info on that appearance, call 670-1458.
Dallas Auto Show: 1996 marks the 100th anniversary of the American automobile, a century that has changed the way we socialize, conduct business, maintain our families, and get laid. The automobile was instrumental in the four-wheeled evolution of each, and the Dallas Auto Show arrives to commemorate the past and help plot the future. North Texas car dealers are the lifeblood of each Auto Show, and for this anniversary year, they've provided not only soon-to-be-released models and radical improvements on existing cars, but dug into their private collections to showcase mint-condition, decades-old cars from the past 100 years. Show hours are Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-8 p.m. at the Dallas Convention Center. Tickets are $4-$6. (Kids under 12 get in free.) Call 637-0531.
Big D Festival of the Unexpected: Amid the media blitz over Dallas performances of Angels in America (which, while enjoying very healthy ticket sales, still has good seats available), the Dallas Theatre Center doesn't want one of its favorite annual events to slip through the cracks. Big D Festival of the Unexpected continues to be the coolest theater-arts festival with the lamest name--nine days of staged readings, fully produced one-acts, cabaret revues, and works-in-progress. Highlights include a production of Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill's Little Mahogany, a 1920s parody of rampant American consumption; The Bible Belt and Other Accessories, a one-man show about growing up gay in central Texas by Paul Bonin-Rodriquez; I Used to Be One Hot Number, a comic feminist monologue by Rhonda Blair; and the Austin-based Flaming Idiots, three guys who do strange and hilarious things with balloons, whips, and straitjackets. The festival runs through April 21. Tickets for the various performance are $7-$20. Bryant Hall and Frank's Place in the DTC's Kalita Humphreys space, 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd. For info, call 522-8499.
Wendy Liebman: She has a smile as eerily wide and enthusiastic as the Joker's, and a sense of comic timing that's subversive and even a little sinister in its sneak-attack effectiveness. Wendy Liebman talks about all the same stream-of-consciousness life debris every other stand-up comic addresses. But she manages to disorient her audiences with a peculiar blend of friendliness and anarchy, a warmth that sticks despite her talent for toppling any given sacred cow with one punch (line). Poised on the edge of her own weekly show for HBO, Liebman is a one-woman spoiler of the games adults play. She performs in the Main Auditorium of the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson. Tickets are $10 per seat. Call UTD-2945.
Main St. Fort Worth Arts Festival: For 11 years, the Main St. Fort Worth Arts Festival has taken the "arts and crafts" element that's a part of every festival and transformed it into a reason for driving west. The more than 200 artisans who display their work all weekend long specialize in more than cotton-ball-and-popsicle-stick sculptures; their stuff includes photography, painting, woodcarving, ceramic, and glasswork. A special expanded family area marks the 1996 Main St. Festival, with help from the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, which provides hands-on experience with robotics, herpetology, and paleontology. For the adults, there's seminars by Belgian-by-way-of-Austin microbrew-pub great Celis and continuous live music. Festival hours are Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-midnight; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. on historic Main Street, from the Courthouse to the Tarrant County Convention Center, in Fort Worth. Call (817) 336-ARTS.
Parsons Dance Company: Former Paul Taylor company member David Parsons is one of the most sought-after American choreographers of the '90s, mostly because of his audience-friendly blend of illusion and prowess. Perhaps you caught the PBS special in which David Parsons performed his most famous piece, 1982's Caught. Audience members regularly rise to their feet for this solo performance, which features Parsons in flagrant acrobatics while a massive strobe light flickers behind, seeming to catch him walk across air. This latest TITAS show by the Parsons Dance Company also features three Dallas premieres. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. in McFarlin Auditorium, on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Tickets are $7-$40. Call 528-5576.
Leslie Gail Brooks: Leslie Gail Brooks is one of those country-blues mamas who's too busy helping out every good cause that comes her way to develop the shark instincts necessary for national stardom. Not that the Kentucky-born, Texas-based musician hasn't already amassed an impressive catalogue of published songs. She came to Dallas, because, whether you know it or not, our fair city is a mecca for producers of commercial jingles. Soon, however, Brooks discovered that North Texas country-blues clubs were hip to her raw edge. Her latest project is a benefit concert for The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children called "Banding Together to Protect Our Children." Brooks performs with her band, Thunder, alongside Frankly Scarlett and Barton, Blake, and Sweeney. The show kicks off at 7 p.m. at The Plaza Theater, 1115 Fourth Ave. in Carrollton. Tickets are $10-$12. Call 343-8663.
Texas Bound: This week sees the close of Dallas' esteemed 1996 Arts & Letters Live season, which has for five years struggled to remind TV and movie fanatics that there is one irreplaceable cog in both those functions--the writer. Arts & Letters Live seeks to reunite live audiences with live performers and the magical written word, especially as it's recorded in Texas. The "Texas Bound" series features Lone Star actors reading Lone Star authors, as Octavio Solis reads Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler; Nick Stahl reads Charlie McMurtry, Larry's brother; Lisa Lee Schmidt reads Violette Newton; and Raphael Parry reads Jan Epton Seale. Performances happen 6:30 & 8:30 p.m. at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood. Tickets are $10-$12. On Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. at Club Dada, 2720 Elm, A&LL's "Literary Cafe" offers a free evening for "Adults Only" on the subject of romance. Local actors Tina Parker and Katherine Owens join Texas writers Tom Doyal, C.W. Smith, and Barbara Renaud Gonzalez for an evening of racy observations. For information, call 922-1200.
Winnie Mandela: The long, strange saga of Winnie Mandela is instructive of how we choose political heroes at our own peril. Married to Nelson Mandela at the start of his 26-year imprisonment for sedition in the South African state, Winnie began her public tenure as a Jackie Kennedy-Pat Nixon kind of mystery woman. She pined for her husband and the collapse of apartheid in moving public ceremonies. Soon after, she was courted by the radical wing of the African National Congress and recast herself into an image more like the government-persecuted African-American activist Angela Davis. But unlike Davis, whose early teachings walked a fine line between hostility and persuasion, Winnie Mandela was directly linked with (and later absolved from) a series of brutal execution-style political murders. Husband Nelson Mandela was instrumental in dismissing her from leadership in the South African government. She appears at 7:30 p.m. in Texas Hall at the University of Texas at Arlington. Tickets are $8-$12. Call (817) 273-2755.
Juanita Miller: The last decade has seen theater, dance, and live music venues drop from the radar of Dallas audience support--unless, of course, you happen to be the Dallas Theatre Center, the Dallas Opera, or the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, a trio of venerable (and internationally celebrated) institutions which have enjoyed the support of bidnessmen and their blue-haired wives and mothers for decades. Juanita Miller is a veteran Dallas bidness blue-hair who has, for 40 years, stood beside the Opera, Symphony, and Theatre Center when they existed--once upon a very long time ago--as struggling arts institutions. She'll discuss her role in saving them, but can she explain why so many rich, enthusiastic Dallas families fail to support riskier fare? The talk kicks off at noon at Dallas Country Club, 4100 Beverly Dr. For ticket information, call 520-0206.
The Best Little Homo in the World: Paul J. Williams survived a marketing degree from Baylor to become what he is now--a tragically underpaid adult, but also one of Texas' most famous gay comedic talents. He sold out Dallas theaters and toured behind national headliners with his two buddies in Less Miserable, a trio which specialized in song parodies and character monologues with a refreshing, nonpreachy political edge. Williams emerges with his first post-Miserable one-man show, The Best Little Homo in Texas, which contains a slew of new characters and a few old ones, including the beloved Nelda Pickens, an East Texas real-estate agent with an attitude even bigger than her cigarette-induced emphysema. Williams performs his show April 17 at 8 p.m. and April 19-20 at 11:15 p.m. at the Pocket Sandwich Theater, 5400 E. Mockingbird. Tickets are $7. Call 821-1860.
Punch and Judy: The J. Erik Jonsson Central Library downtown has opened a free exhibit of the Dallas Theater Center Archive, which traces the company's decades-long development as one of the top regional theaters of the Southwest. To mark the exhibit, the downtown library also introduces a series of free short performances. The debut is a presentation of the classic, slightly scary duo Punch and Judy (Sandra McLean and Karl Perkins). In case you forgot, Punch and Judy were a sadomasochistic married couple--sort of the Bundys before Fox. The performance happens at 12:15 p.m. in the third-floor lounge of the Humanities Division of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, 1515 Young St. Call 670-7838.