Growing in Stages

New places, faces and ideas have transformed Houston's theater scene

Of course, Houston's big daddy is the Alley, headed up by the luminous imagination of artistic director Gregory Boyd, who got here in 1989. In 1996, Boyd did a magnificent thing for Houston. He brought home a Tony -- the 1996 Special Regional Theatre Award -- and it put our city on the national theatrical map. Alley shows have since traveled across the country, and Boyd has brought in guest artists as distinguished as Vanessa Redgrave. But the best thing Boyd has done is foster local talent. And no one has benefited more from Boyd's tenure than James Black.

Over the years, Black, a homeboy from La Porte, has turned in one magnificent performance after another. Many will most remember his tough-guy characters, like Butch O'Fallon in Tennessee Williams's Not About Nightingales, and Eddie Carbone in Author Miller's A View from the Bridge. But no performance has been more carefully articulated or devastatingly horrific than his soft- spoken everyman of a pedophile, Uncle Peck in Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive. That was a performance made for haunting dreams, with its quiet intensity and simple, terrifying truth. And best of all, Black has recently emerged as a director of great theatrical intelligence and even bigger heart. His production last season of Our Lady of 121st Street, with its huge cast and sweeping heartbreaks, was one of the best of the year. Who knows what Black will bring to the stage next?

Yes, indeed, 15 years has made a world of difference to theater-lovers in Houston. New venues, new faces and crazy new ideas have made our town one of the best places to be for a ticket-holder on Saturday night.

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