True dives are almost always found downtown. True dives have to serve liquor -- a divelike bar that doesn't is called a beer joint. True dives have to make you wonder what really pays the bills. True dives have to have really weird jukeboxes and have to open as early in the day as the law allows. True dives are often found on the ground floor of the sort of hotel that makes you hear mournful saxophones and think of Sam Spade. Charlie's fills this bill better than any bar in Houston.

True dives are almost always found downtown. True dives have to serve liquor -- a divelike bar that doesn't is called a beer joint. True dives have to make you wonder what really pays the bills. True dives have to have really weird jukeboxes and have to open as early in the day as the law allows. True dives are often found on the ground floor of the sort of hotel that makes you hear mournful saxophones and think of Sam Spade. Charlie's fills this bill better than any bar in Houston.

Alley Theatre
One of the best things about the Alley Theatre's 2002-2003 season was its diversity. The productions ran the gamut from Kaufman and Hart's 1930s comedy You Can't Take It with You to Shakespeare's daunting Hamlet. Then there were the shows covering such oddball subjects as sex with goats and conspiracy theories on the Kennedy assassination. Put it all back to back, throw in a terrific company of actors, a handful of slick directors and the technical charm offered by some of the country's top designers, and you've got one hell of a season of theater.

One of the best things about the Alley Theatre's 2002-2003 season was its diversity. The productions ran the gamut from Kaufman and Hart's 1930s comedy You Can't Take It with You to Shakespeare's daunting Hamlet. Then there were the shows covering such oddball subjects as sex with goats and conspiracy theories on the Kennedy assassination. Put it all back to back, throw in a terrific company of actors, a handful of slick directors and the technical charm offered by some of the country's top designers, and you've got one hell of a season of theater.

In the 1960s one critic called Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? "a sick play for sick people." Who can argue with such a statement when the infamous couple at the center of Albee's tale are the sort of middle-aged vipers Americans love to hate? And of course, now that it's 2003, most of us are willing to admit that yes, we are a little sick. Maybe that's why Albee's story still packs a wallop some 40 years after it first won a Tony. Outlandish and shocking as ever, Albee's script is one of the most psychologically ornate in the American canon, and nobody knows that better than director Gregory Boyd, whose dizzying winter production of the classic had an almost barbaric splendor. Held up by a terrific cast of four -- Judith Ivey, Ty Mayberry, James Black and Elizabeth Bunch -- the show was undoubtedly the most powerful, most gorgeously horrifying production of the season.

In the 1960s one critic called Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? "a sick play for sick people." Who can argue with such a statement when the infamous couple at the center of Albee's tale are the sort of middle-aged vipers Americans love to hate? And of course, now that it's 2003, most of us are willing to admit that yes, we are a little sick. Maybe that's why Albee's story still packs a wallop some 40 years after it first won a Tony. Outlandish and shocking as ever, Albee's script is one of the most psychologically ornate in the American canon, and nobody knows that better than director Gregory Boyd, whose dizzying winter production of the classic had an almost barbaric splendor. Held up by a terrific cast of four -- Judith Ivey, Ty Mayberry, James Black and Elizabeth Bunch -- the show was undoubtedly the most powerful, most gorgeously horrifying production of the season.

Suspense on stage is difficult to achieve. But New York's Collective: Unconscious succeeded with its play Charlie Victor Romeo. The title refers to a plane's black box, or cockpit voice recorder. The theater group took public-domain transcripts of plane crashes and staged the scenes with a cockpit mock-up. Before each of the six scenes, title slides indicated the flight information and reason for disaster. The exceptional sound design established the pressurized cabin environment with such accuracy that you could actually feel your ears pop, and a feeling of doom gripped you and didn't let go. The actors treated the material with respect and restraint, letting the transcripts speak for themselves. It was a panicky wild ride of a show.

Suspense on stage is difficult to achieve. But New York's Collective: Unconscious succeeded with its play Charlie Victor Romeo. The title refers to a plane's black box, or cockpit voice recorder. The theater group took public-domain transcripts of plane crashes and staged the scenes with a cockpit mock-up. Before each of the six scenes, title slides indicated the flight information and reason for disaster. The exceptional sound design established the pressurized cabin environment with such accuracy that you could actually feel your ears pop, and a feeling of doom gripped you and didn't let go. The actors treated the material with respect and restraint, letting the transcripts speak for themselves. It was a panicky wild ride of a show.

The gothic setting of rural North Carolina, with its hidden back roads and lost graveyards, is part of what made Stargaze Theatre's spring production of Eric Rosen's Dream Boy so gripping. But it was a terrible paradox -- that such a bucolic setting could hide puritanical repression and extreme violence -- that was the real triumph of the show. There couldn't be a worse place for a gay boy to come of age. Director Christian DeVries created a technically clever production that included a starry-night backdrop and a rolling country river made of light. Against this beautiful landscape, the boys of Rosen's world got naked and engaged in some of the most disturbingly erotic scenes seen on a Houston stage in years. Violent, painful and deeply moving, Dream Boy rose above the constraints of "gay" theater and captured the desperate sadness of the human condition.

The gothic setting of rural North Carolina, with its hidden back roads and lost graveyards, is part of what made Stargaze Theatre's spring production of Eric Rosen's Dream Boy so gripping. But it was a terrible paradox -- that such a bucolic setting could hide puritanical repression and extreme violence -- that was the real triumph of the show. There couldn't be a worse place for a gay boy to come of age. Director Christian DeVries created a technically clever production that included a starry-night backdrop and a rolling country river made of light. Against this beautiful landscape, the boys of Rosen's world got naked and engaged in some of the most disturbingly erotic scenes seen on a Houston stage in years. Violent, painful and deeply moving, Dream Boy rose above the constraints of "gay" theater and captured the desperate sadness of the human condition.

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