Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Masquerade Theatre Musical theater doesn't get too adventurous in Houston. TUTS revives the usual suspects of Broadway warhorses; Broadway in Houston tours the safest current hits; and most of the smaller troupes in town, ever on the edge of financial ruin, can't afford to take too many chances. But for seven years, Masquerade Theatre, near the Heights, has consistently put on terrific, low-budget productions of risky but rewarding shows such as City of Angels, Sweeney Todd, Floyd Collins and A New Brain. The resident acting company all have fine voices, and director Phillip Duggan tends to make the most out of the cramped space that serves as home. The only drawback is the sparse musical accompaniment -- there's no swelling of strings or blasting horn sections here -- but if Masquerade had to pay for a large orchestra, they'd compromise the edgy shows we admire.
Under the Volcano Taking its cue from the Malcolm Lowry novel of the same name, Under the Volcano is a colorfully riotous celebration of El Día de los Muertos -- the Day of the Dead -- all year round. As you walk in, there's a glassed-in shrine to recent notables who have passed over, complete with clipped-out newspaper obituaries and fresh flowers. Boldly colored Mexican folk art statues, glowing tin lamps and dusty, old paper flowers cover the walls, which are themselves painted in festive pastel shades. The tropical theme even extends to the parking lot, which is walled in with oleanders, bougainvillea and other flowering shrubbery. The vibe here renders you powerless to resist ordering up one more drink.
Cezanne Sure, there are more glamorous spots to catch jazz in this town. You can delight in the sights of open-backed, little black dresses and power players at spots like Scott Gertner's Skybar or Sambuca. But jazz has always been about the music. And traditional, straight-ahead fans have always flocked to tiny rooms to listen to serious players. Tucked up above the Black Labrador, Cezanne is hardly noticeable to nonfans, but there it sits, home to local and statewide cats such as Kellye Gray, Sebastian Whittaker and David Craig, as well as the occasional national act. For jazz fans who love performance over pretension, shows here promise all the intimacy of an exclusive gig in your friend's living room.
Infernal Bridegroom Productions' Symphony of Rats Stepping into the Axiom theater for Symphony of Rats was like entering an attic from another world. In a place where presidents receive messages from robots -- who make bubbles and smoke cigarettes as they discuss philosophical constructs -- Infernal Bridegroom's production of Richard Foreman's play called for serious set creativity. Designed by the company as a group, the stage was a crazy quilt of cartoon images with messages like "Oil Isn't Fuck Glitter" and "CB Head Face Machine" splattered across the cinder-block walls. TVs, space ships and skeletons drifted in the melee. Official-looking papers and folders were scattered across the floor, and in the middle of the stage sat an enormous Plexiglas box where the president of the free world tried to learn golf. Symphony of Rats came together with its own delicate logic, and it owed much of its success to this chaotic atmosphere.
Brian O'Neill's So you're at an Irish pub knocking back a pint of Guinness, checking out the beautiful people of Rice Village, when all of a sudden you look at your buddy and say, "I'm gonna sink your battleship!" Well, you can at Brian O'Neill's, where they match great food and drink with your favorite games. They've got typical pub fare like darts and Golden Tee, but you can also chill with some checkers, chess, Connect Four (pretty sneaky, sis!), Jenga and Battleship. Whether you want to lounge inside on a sofa or get some fresh air on the patio, you'll have plenty of games to keep yourself entertained. Waitress, we'll have another round of Harps, buffalo wings and a chess board, please!
The Lounge at benjy's The upstairs lounge at this Rice Village restaurant offers eight specialty martinis, strawberry-infused vodka and great chilled sake. But more than fantastic drinks, it has the perfect cocktail-lounge atmosphere: swank, sexy and fun. From the low-slung leather couches to the mod pale blue barstools to the pastel Chinese lanterns, the place hums with an understated Asian chic that perfectly matches the menu of Japanese-inspired noshes. After work is the best time here, when Med Center folks meet and greet over mojito martinis at the bar, and the suits, looking for something quieter, murmur over spring rolls on the patio.
Cultural Baggage Like many of us, Dean Becker has a problem with the current war against the livelier substances available on our streets -- particularly marijuana. With "Project Housterdam," he's knocking on the doors of every politician in town, spearheading an initiative smokier than a hole in Afghanistan after Dubya had his way with it. In his personal fight for the liberation of pot and all its users, Dean talks to doctors, politicians, cops and anyone who'll face his microphone. Much of the time he confronts the people who could do something about the war but don't, and boy, does Dean have some suggestions for them. He's not the smoothest talker in the world, which might hinder interviews, and he can be a bit hazy at times, but his persona makes for great radio. And at least he's not sitting on his couch, sucking a bong and talkin' about "Who's better: David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar?" He's sparking a revolution. One joint, er, one show at a time.