Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Like most music venues, Mango's isn't strictly new. Plenty of former Houston punks and hardcore kids have fond memories of the vegetarian restaurant's mid-'90s run as the Oven, and it's been a staple venue of the resurrected Westheimer Block Party for at least a couple of years. But when Free Press Houston editor/publisher Omar Afra and friends took over full-time earlier this year, Mango's shot to the top of the charts as the place to see both Houston's finest and occasional out-of-towners, like musical comedian Neil Hamburger and St. Louis's So Many Dynamos. Most weekend nights, and plenty of weekdays, Mango's is absolutely packed with young Houstonians checking out local favorites from B L A C K I E and Born Liars to Dead Roses and News on the March. It can get a little, well, oven-like in there when that happens, but the sweltering scene is just more evidence of Houston's almost unprecedented musical renaissance, a resurgence that couldn't have happened without venues like this.
Few characters are as complicated as those built by the mighty brain of Tom Stoppard. Happily, actors as fine as Todd Waite make sure that all that complexity gets translated to the stage. The guiding force of the Alley Theatre's supercharged production of Rock 'n' Roll this past spring, Waite played Jan, a Czech lover of music. As Jan, he created a character who was both intellectually powerful and emotionally tender, a man who wanted to avoid politics even as he stood up for what he believed was right. Best of all, he made us fall in love with Stoppard all over again.
The kvetching character at the center of Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing! is no walk in the park for any actress — she's mean, destructive, even cruel. But Luisa Amaral-Smith managed to find the soul of Bessie Berger, the iron-fisted matriarch of the Jewish family Odets created. Bessie is the most terrible of mothers, crushing her family members even as she sets about trying to make them successful. She is, in short, the sort of mother who keeps therapists in business. But Amaral-Smith lifted Bessie out of the ick of caricature to create a fully realized woman — both deeply troubled and amazingly real, she was the embodiment of what acting is all about.
No one is more dedicated to the maxim "less is more" than Gallery Sonja Roesch. Focused on reductive and concept-based art, the gallery breaks with the pop culture norm and instead shows work by artists who rebel against visual overload. Case in point is German painter Mario Reis, a frequent guest at the gallery. Reis is well known for his "river paintings" (canvases he submerges in river beds around the world, allowing the minerals in the water to stain an image on the surface). Reis makes almost no attempt to control his images, and once they're done, he resists embellishments and manipulation. Keeping his actions as an artist to a minimum, Reis nonetheless produces evocative works. In a scene filled with noisy, complicated art, Gallery Sonja Roesch is a respite showing uncluttered works that resonate with viewers.
Ben Tecumseh DeSoto and Ann Walton Sieber's photography exhibit "Understanding Poverty" at DiverseWorks was harrowing for its unflinching look at Houston's homeless. The show chronicled, from the late '80s to today, the story of Judy Pruitt, a.k.a. "Snow," an abandoned street kid begging, tricking and stealing to survive, as well as that of Ben White, a homeless man DeSoto and Sieber followed. The photos delved into the traumatized psychology of poverty and revealed hard truths about the broken-down system that perpetuates it. "DeSoto, who was a staff photographer at the Houston Chronicle for 25 years, has employed a photojournalist technique, and his imagery is augmented by Sieber's large chunks of text and quotes from literature. There were disturbing images of crack and heroin use, domestic abuse and life on the street. One section of photos addressed city programs and initiatives to document and help those in need. While DeSoto and Sieber's subject matter was hard to crack at first, once one connected with it, it became absorbing and rewarding. It was an ugly world, but one worth getting lost in.
Painter/sculptor Patrick Medrano and photographer Katy Anderson were two of the winners of last January's Mastermind Awards, and we just thought they deserved another win. The married couple conceptualized the Fodice Foundation, an artist residency compound housed in an abandoned WPA school in the East Texas town of Fodice. To hear the two talk about the project, one imagines established sites like Donald Judd's Chinati Foundation in Marfa or Robert Wilson's Watermill Center on Long Island, but obviously more intimate and homey — a place more about ideas, location and history than art-world clout. Each year, the foundation will offer up to six artists concurrent residencies for up to two months, for an estimated total of 24 artists per year. The visiting artists will have the opportunity to focus on their own work, and they will also become integral parts of a very depressed community where the arts are currently neglected. In addition to six artist studios, the Fodice compound will include housing, a fully equipped workshop, kitchen facilities, offices, a gallery space and a performance space, as well as permanent installations. We can't wait to make the road trip and check out this naturally collaborative team's ultimate collaboration.