No theater group in town is better equipped to pull off Sarah Kane's fiery Phaedra's Love than the folks at Infernal Bridegroom Productions. All about incest, murder and mayhem, the fall 2002 production, under Jason Nodler's direction, was filled with the technical magic that sets IBP apart. Fires blazed, bellies were cut open, and every gory thing the Greeks and Romans (Seneca wrote the original version) relegated to the wings was pulled to center stage -- much to the audience's voyeuristic delight. The moment when Phaedra's body went up in smoke in a great funereal pyre at the back of the stage couldn't have been more electrifying or immediate.

Medea has nothing on Regina Giddens. The matriarch at the head of Lillian Hellman's Southern Gothic melodrama The Little Foxes is one of the most treacherous villains ever to walk across a stage. And with her slithering brothers Benjamin and Oscar Hubbard, she completes a gruesome troika. The cast of Main Street's wicked spring production lived up to the deliciously nasty script. As Regina, Claire Hart-Palumbo did everything but spit venom into her victims' eyes. Robert Leeds made a heartless, machiavellian Benjamin, clearly willing to cut off his siblings at the knees. And Thomas Baird, as Oscar, a man who alternately beat his poor wife and cowered before his mighty family, was shamelessly spineless.

Medea has nothing on Regina Giddens. The matriarch at the head of Lillian Hellman's Southern Gothic melodrama The Little Foxes is one of the most treacherous villains ever to walk across a stage. And with her slithering brothers Benjamin and Oscar Hubbard, she completes a gruesome troika. The cast of Main Street's wicked spring production lived up to the deliciously nasty script. As Regina, Claire Hart-Palumbo did everything but spit venom into her victims' eyes. Robert Leeds made a heartless, machiavellian Benjamin, clearly willing to cut off his siblings at the knees. And Thomas Baird, as Oscar, a man who alternately beat his poor wife and cowered before his mighty family, was shamelessly spineless.

Conor McPherson's The Weir revolves around a tiny cast of five actors who spend the entire evening on stage together, telling spooky stories and getting soused. It's imperative that the actors be perfectly in tune with one another in this demanding play. And the players in Main Street's luminous production last spring were more than up to the task. Rutherford Cravens played the cantankerous and crusty Jack. George Brock's shuffling, awkward Jim tried his best to keep the peace. Kent Johnson played oily Finbar to greasy perfection. And Mark Roberts made a charming host, pouring drinks and listening to his customers' tales. At the center of all this testosterone was pretty Rosalind Blacoe, whose character had quite a story of her own. But this ensemble award goes to those who worked behind the scenes as well -- particularly to Patti Bean, for her understated direction, and to Jodi Bobrovsky for a fabulous tavern set that looked like it had been lifted, intact, from some lost village in Ireland. Working together, the Weir cast and crew created one of the best productions of the season.

Conor McPherson's The Weir revolves around a tiny cast of five actors who spend the entire evening on stage together, telling spooky stories and getting soused. It's imperative that the actors be perfectly in tune with one another in this demanding play. And the players in Main Street's luminous production last spring were more than up to the task. Rutherford Cravens played the cantankerous and crusty Jack. George Brock's shuffling, awkward Jim tried his best to keep the peace. Kent Johnson played oily Finbar to greasy perfection. And Mark Roberts made a charming host, pouring drinks and listening to his customers' tales. At the center of all this testosterone was pretty Rosalind Blacoe, whose character had quite a story of her own. But this ensemble award goes to those who worked behind the scenes as well -- particularly to Patti Bean, for her understated direction, and to Jodi Bobrovsky for a fabulous tavern set that looked like it had been lifted, intact, from some lost village in Ireland. Working together, the Weir cast and crew created one of the best productions of the season.

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.

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.

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