Tamarie Cooper has become an institution in H-town. Every summer for the past ten years, she's treated the city to a brand-new musical episode of her ever-evolving, bust-a-gut-funny Tamalalia series, put on with the folks at Infernal Bridegroom Productions. And hip Houstonians have come to love her for it. Sadly, this year all the fun came to an end, when Cooper and her company of clowns put on the absolute last Tamalalia ever. So in tearfully fond farewell, we're giving the award for best original show to Tamalalia 10: The Greatest Hits Show. A smorgasbord of scenes from her previous shows, No. 10 reacquainted us with her love of bad '80s MTV dance moves, her obsession with bacon and her hilarious parade of embarrassingly dreadful boyfriends. While we're sad to see Cooper's series fade into the sunset at the relatively young age of ten, it's also exciting to wonder what she'll think of next.
Poison Girl
Poison Girl's got a strangely schizo feel to it. Inside, the narrow bar and hipster/rocker clientele reminds you of a dive in Brooklyn's Williamsburg or San Francisco's Mission District. Outside, though, the whole vibe shifts Texas-ward. There are picnic tables loaded with glasses of Bock beer, pebbly dirt on the ground, lots of lush subtropical foliage...and the rear of Poison Girl -- that peaked white clapboard facade. What does it look like? You can't quite place it at first, but then it comes in a rush: Gruene Hall. Somehow, even though you're in the very heart of darkest Montrose, you feel like you're in the Texas Hill Country. That's one magic patio, folks.
Infernal Bridegroom Productions' home at the Axiom nightclub is the perfect atmosphere -- it's comfortable enough for those tentatively making a first foray into "edgy" theater, but it has a ramshackle warehouse vibe that won't make the black-clad scenesters feel out of place. The large theater in the back is big enough for the most outrageous Tamalalia production number, while the front-room stage at the bar can easily accommodate smaller plays or readings. Add to that an outside patio for smokers, free parking and cheap beer, and art becomes easy.
This spring DiverseWorks looked less like a conventional art gallery and more like an illicit guerrilla bunker. It housed work from some of the most creative minds in culture jamming, the hit-and-run art of media intervention. The image of a baby strapped with TNT, below the words "Hamas Baby Bomb," appeared on a faux postage stamp, which artist Michael Hernandez de Luna had stuck to an envelope and mailed to himself without a glitch. Dozens of similar terrorist envelopes lined the wall. Another installation urged visitors to cut off the labels from their clothes using a pair of scissors and pin them to a world map based on their sweatshop of origin. The creepiest exhibit, Roach Zapped!, featured a cage full of live, Malagasy giant hissing cockroaches. Each roach was strapped with an RFID tag, a technology Wal-Mart is implementing to track its products (which could easily track them straight into homes). The artists, the collective Preemptive Media, asked patrons to take a roach with them and release it in a Wal-Mart, where its RFID tag would flash the company computers with messages such as "Stop the Creep!"
There was a general wailing, flailing and gnashing of teeth when Clear Channel radio pulled the plug on local rock institution KLOL. Here was the general complaint: How dare they pull the plug on my Walton and Johnson, AC/DC-Audioslave-Stevie Ray playlists and Mandatory Metallica and replace it with all that Tejano racket! We're gonna get up a petition and get Clear Channel to put it back! We'll show 'em Houston's still a rock and roll town! How wrong we were. Mega's mix of reggaeton, Latin hip-hop and dance music, rock en espanol and Hispanicized remixes of rap hits has proved a ratings winner, while KLOL's rock successor KIOL (103.7 FM) has barely made a dent in the Arbitron books. And while most Anglos may not dig Mega, it's a rare example of a radio behemoth actually catering to its listeners -- Latin youth -- by giving them music that had been popular in the underground, rather than just whatever "tested well" in their intensely flawed research and whatever the major labels wanted to ram down our throats.
This bar's residential neighbors don't seem too keen on its existence, but the people inside are too distracted by the 20-odd flat-screen TVs to give a damn. Here you can watch just about any sporting event imaginable, save for pro hockey (thanks, organized labor), and chow down on some of the best bar grub in town. Top it off with frequent Harley raffles, and you've got yourself a damn fine sports bar. And if your date isn't down with going to a bar named after sex juice, tell her the place is called Paradise. Hey, that's what's written over the door.
Alley Theatre
Any theater that can produce the cornball lovefest Steel Magnolias in the upstairs auditorium while running David Mamet's darkly profane Glengarry Glen Ross downstairs in the basement deserves a huge round of applause. But that bit of artistic (and marketing) genius was just what came at the end of the Alley Theatre's fabulous year. The rest of the season included unforgettable performances in shows such as The Exonerated, a deeply disturbing play about the death penalty; and The Crucible, a classic by the late Arthur Miller that paid wonderful tribute to one of America's greatest playwrights. There was also a loopy script by Steve Martin called The Underpants, of all things, and a hilarious import from a group of California Latino iconoclasts called Culture Clash in AmeriCCa. Season ticket holders had to be thrilled at their good luck.
Founded by Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza in 1984, Culture Clash made a name for themselves as performing sociologists. In the Alley Theatre's Culture Clash in AmeriCCa, which came roaring into town last fall, the group brought to life everyone from an angry white Vietnam vet to a deliriously happy transgendered Latina to a modest Muslim taxi driver who wanted everyone as a friend. Told mostly in short scenes on an empty stage, the show skipped around the borderlands of America and allowed the folks living here a moment to speak. Their experiences as immigrants, their sexual identities, their brushes with racism and their joys and sorrows as Americans all got a snapshot of time on stage. And from the alchemy of those scenes came a view of America that was as rich and wonderful as the land itself.
Playing the cuckold has never been easy. Just ask Josh Morrison, who played one such loser in Stages Repertory Theatre's production of Craig Wright's Orange Flower Water this past spring. Hard as it may be, Morrison was somehow able to make the ordinary meathead named Brad into the most memorable male character on any stage this past season. Morrison's Brad was not the sort of man any self-respecting wife would want. He ogled other women and bad-mouthed his bride, and everywhere he went, gloom seemed to follow. He absolutely deserved it when his wife shacked up with another man. But still, when Brad found out what his wife was up to, the forbiddingly muscular Morrison filled up the stage with an animal rage that felt so painfully real, it was hard not to weep for the bastard. Morrison paced around the bedroom looking at his faithless wife, howling out his broken heart in a scream of profanity that felt so primal, it shook the very ground he stood on.
The charming Annalee Jefferies can breathe life into the most ordinary tale. She made that clear last season when she played Haley in Theresa Rebeck's silly play Bad Dates at the Alley Theatre. It was Jefferies alone, under Jeremy B. Cohen's direction, who kept Rebeck's one-woman show from sinking under the weight of its own cuteness. The play focused on the frustrating dating life of a giggly restaurant manager named Haley. We watched Haley return from date after rotten date. She told us about men who talked about their colonoscopies and gay men who were just using a date with her to get into her fancy restaurant. The insipid story was as close to made-for-TV as theater can get. And the 90-minute monologue could have been about as thrilling as last year's Hallmark card if it hadn't been for the infectious energy of Jefferies, who moved about the stage with such girlish charisma and absolute joy, we couldn't help but cheer for Haley as she looked for love in all the wrong places.

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