His whereabouts these days are unknown, but take a walk or a drive down any one of Houston's center-city streets or freeways, and you're bound to see some of his work. Possibly the most "up" graffiti writer in Houston, NEXT took over this city for a couple of good years, leaving our cops perplexed and other taggers in the dust. Many a warehouse party and underground gathering has been broken up by police in search of this guy called NEXT, but he's always escaped the long arm of the law. Some say he's laying low outside the city for a while until the heat goes down. But this is Texas, and the heat never goes down, so for a graffiti artist of his stature, moving on down the railroad track to another burg might not be a bad idea. Till then we'll still chuckle every time we see his tag at the top of a freeway exit sign or at the bottom end of a bus stop pole.

When The New York Times nominates you to win a Nobel Prize and be first lady -- in the same sentence! -- you know you've got something going on. But New York's just finding out what Texas art lovers have known for quite a while: San Antonio's Dario Robleto is one of the smartest young artists at work today. In this timely, double-barreled show -- the second part opened just days before the United States invaded Iraq -- Robleto raised, with his meticulously constructed, narrative-rich sculptures, timeless questions about the stupidity and horror of war. The show offered, if not answering (who could?), at least different contexts in which to think about the questions. And Robleto's sculptures lingered in the mind long after the show was over.

When The New York Times nominates you to win a Nobel Prize and be first lady -- in the same sentence! -- you know you've got something going on. But New York's just finding out what Texas art lovers have known for quite a while: San Antonio's Dario Robleto is one of the smartest young artists at work today. In this timely, double-barreled show -- the second part opened just days before the United States invaded Iraq -- Robleto raised, with his meticulously constructed, narrative-rich sculptures, timeless questions about the stupidity and horror of war. The show offered, if not answering (who could?), at least different contexts in which to think about the questions. And Robleto's sculptures lingered in the mind long after the show was over.

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.

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