Infernal Bridegroom Productions' Jason Nodler (2002)

Comeback Kids!

Back in the early '90s, The Axiom was the coolest hellhole in Houston. In a best-of issue of its own, Details magazine listed the bar (in its Catal Hüyük incarnation) as the punk place to visit when in town. Skanky, dark and perpetually sticky, the punk rock bar hunkered on the eastern edge of downtown and filled the night air with grungy, growling alternative rock and wildly screeching punk. It was host to the young and pierced, who slithered up to the bar with their shaved heads and combat boots for poetry slams and pitchers of brown beer.

On the outside, Jason Nodler looked like any other Axiom barfly, with his hangdog T-shirt style and his perpetually ironic sneer. Of course, even bellied up to the bar, guzzling pitchers of Lone Star, the wiry young man who would soon become artistic director of Infernal Bridegroom Productions was casting his artful eye on the wide open spaces of The Axiom, sticky though they may have been. In fact, he had a vision. The Axiom, with all its angsty, dank, too-cool blackness, would become the space where Nodler would produce his first show, In the Under Thunderloo. The eccentric rock musical about cavemen and the Apocalypse caused a riot of energy among young Houston hipsters. The show sold out every night, and Nodler's star was on the rise. But as he and IBP began to make waves, The Axiom began to lose steam. When it closed, it seemed as though an era of wild-bar finery was over.

Throughout the '90s the building would take on many identities, even as a fabulous transvestite bar. But it seemed as though the space that had launched one of our city's most stirring and successful theater companies would never return to the glory of its early-'90s punk rock heyday. Re-enter Nodler, who clearly never forgot the power of those times. Last year, when IBP finally got the funding for a space of its own, it wasn't long before Nodler and his motley crew were back at McKinney, rolling up their sleeves and getting down to the nitty-gritty business of turning the dilapidated bar into a first-class avant-garde theater. These days it's scrubbed and painted and dressed up with couches and carpets -- but not too dressed up. After shows and during weeks when nothing's in production, the expansive lobby hosts punk bands, just like in the good old days. The mix of highbrow and lowbrow, of theater and music, is making The Axiom one of the most compelling things happening in Houston when the night sky rolls in.


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