Oh, we are the lucky ones. Thanks to the University of Houston, Edward Albee, who is arguably the greatest living American playwright, chooses to grace our fair city with his presence some four months out of the year. Even better, the Alley Theatre often produces one of his astonishing plays while he's in town. This January, the theater decided to do two -- both of them Tony-winners. Upstairs, on the main stage, bitter betrayal was being soothed by highballs of whiskey in Albee's classic Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Downstairs, on the Neuhaus Stage, the playwright's newest script, The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?, was busy astonishing audiences in an entirely new way -- only a writer of Albee's ability could pen a successful play about an architect who falls in love with a barnyard animal. The medicine of Albee's haunting imagination continues to remind us that love is always the most dangerous territory.

Thomas Prior made an unlikely heartthrob in Stages' January production of Syncopation. He played Henry Ribolow, a middle-aged meat-packer who sweated, stomped about and lived with his harping mother. But at night, in the tenement walk-up he'd rented for dancing, Ribolow was a true Fred Astaire, filled with grace and tenderness. It was Prior's ability to be an average joe on the outside while burning with real sexual fire and charisma on the inside that made his performance so memorable. He was sexy, haunting and a little bit brutish. Best of all, the man can really dance.

Thomas Prior made an unlikely heartthrob in Stages' January production of Syncopation. He played Henry Ribolow, a middle-aged meat-packer who sweated, stomped about and lived with his harping mother. But at night, in the tenement walk-up he'd rented for dancing, Ribolow was a true Fred Astaire, filled with grace and tenderness. It was Prior's ability to be an average joe on the outside while burning with real sexual fire and charisma on the inside that made his performance so memorable. He was sexy, haunting and a little bit brutish. Best of all, the man can really dance.

West Alabama Ice House
Sure, it's the obvious choice, but you just can't front on the good-time atmosphere at this airy juke joint. Cheap beers, pretty bohemian bartenders, roots rock and free hot dogs on Friday make this icehouse in the heart of the Montrose a weekly stop for many River Oaks rednecks, broke punk rockers, bikers, yuppies, dog enthusiasts and lager lovers in general. If they added a couple more toilets, people might pitch tents in the backyard and never leave. It's a place where everybody knows your name, whether you want them to or not -- a haven for friendly drunks who don't mind sharing a picnic table with you and just might challenge you to a game of 'shoes. That's the only drawback: You gotta watch for the drunks pitching horseshoes; sometimes they swing a little wide.

Sure, it's the obvious choice, but you just can't front on the good-time atmosphere at this airy juke joint. Cheap beers, pretty bohemian bartenders, roots rock and free hot dogs on Friday make this icehouse in the heart of the Montrose a weekly stop for many River Oaks rednecks, broke punk rockers, bikers, yuppies, dog enthusiasts and lager lovers in general. If they added a couple more toilets, people might pitch tents in the backyard and never leave. It's a place where everybody knows your name, whether you want them to or not -- a haven for friendly drunks who don't mind sharing a picnic table with you and just might challenge you to a game of 'shoes. That's the only drawback: You gotta watch for the drunks pitching horseshoes; sometimes they swing a little wide.

Redheaded diva Elizabeth Heflin reigns supreme at the Alley Theatre. She can't really help it. Besides the fact that she's drop-dead gorgeous, with porcelain skin and flaming hair, she's also a firecracker of energy on stage. Anyone who saw her in Edward Albee's The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? felt her red-hot energy as she exploded on stage. Heflin portrayed a woman scorned by her husband who was in love with a goat, of all things -- a postmodern wife facing the ultimate in postmodern betrayals. Fiercely intelligent, brutal and capable of primal wails that resonate throughout the theater, Heflin gave a performance that no one who loves theater is likely to forget.

Redheaded diva Elizabeth Heflin reigns supreme at the Alley Theatre. She can't really help it. Besides the fact that she's drop-dead gorgeous, with porcelain skin and flaming hair, she's also a firecracker of energy on stage. Anyone who saw her in Edward Albee's The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? felt her red-hot energy as she exploded on stage. Heflin portrayed a woman scorned by her husband who was in love with a goat, of all things -- a postmodern wife facing the ultimate in postmodern betrayals. Fiercely intelligent, brutal and capable of primal wails that resonate throughout the theater, Heflin gave a performance that no one who loves theater is likely to forget.

Balletomanes have been eyeing Nicky Walsh for years at Houston Ballet. He shines in the classical works as well as contemporary pieces by the likes of Christopher Bruce. But this past season was a real breakthrough: Walsh simultaneously solidified his role as one of the ballet's leading males (snagging the lead in the new Paul Taylor piece) and launched his own company, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, to critical acclaim. His choreographic works, Flames of Eros and Katharsis, show promise, but he's still more of a dynamo when dancing. Here's hoping he doesn't move out of that realm anytime soon.

Balletomanes have been eyeing Nicky Walsh for years at Houston Ballet. He shines in the classical works as well as contemporary pieces by the likes of Christopher Bruce. But this past season was a real breakthrough: Walsh simultaneously solidified his role as one of the ballet's leading males (snagging the lead in the new Paul Taylor piece) and launched his own company, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, to critical acclaim. His choreographic works, Flames of Eros and Katharsis, show promise, but he's still more of a dynamo when dancing. Here's hoping he doesn't move out of that realm anytime soon.

Tony Tucci may call Austin home, but his lustrous lighting in last season's revival of Ben Stevenson's Cinderella proves that he's still the best lighting designer working in Houston. From ballet to musical theater to film, Tucci's work has inspired directors, choreographers and audiences alike. He's won numerous awards and worked with such impressive ballet names as Christopher Bruce, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones. He also designed the lighting for the Cultural Olympiad in the 1996 Summer Olympics. We're just happy he makes his way to the Bayou City every once in a while.

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