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.
We didn't know what to make of this place when it popped up last year right down the street from Cecil's. With that graveyard mural on the front and a name like Resurrection, it had to be a goth club, right? Not quite. The title refers to the revival of the after-hours scene, and those tombstones bear the names of former H-town come-down spots (like Therapy and Hyperia), as well as those of long-gone party hounds (like Timothy Leary and Elvis). Inside, thumping music washes over the dance floor and its adjacent chill-out rooms, where you'll find black lights, glow sticks and a projector pumping out porn. This joint doesn't really get jumping until after 3 a.m., right after the drunken fools pass out and the real partyers show up, so be a good scout and come prepared.
Readers' choice: Katz's Deli & Bar
Sure, it's a no-brainer. But you have to hand it to Stanton Welch for putting this company back on a streamlined track that just keeps moving upward and onward. Tutus off to Welch for [email protected] (the first ever evening of all-women choreographers), for bringing back the Cullen Contemporary Series and for Maina Gielgud's glorious production of Giselle. Welch has made wise promotions among the ranks and continues to challenge the corps to new heights. Having a choreographer at the helm makes all the difference, and what a choreographer we have in Welch. His new batch of works places him on the international "in demand" list. Outstanding ballets by Mark Morris, Julia Adam, Natalie Weir and Trey McIntyre made for an unusually diverse year of dance.
It's no wonder Houston Ballet principal Mireille Hassenboehler graced the cover of the February issue of Pointe Magazine -- she's got star power. Hassenboehler triumphed as the weak-hearted village girl in Maina Gielgud's magnificent production of Giselle, handling the famous "mad scene" with a light but convincing touch. There's a fine line in romantic ballet between high drama and melodrama. Hassenboehler nailed the acting part with considerable finesse as she wandered the stage looking hopelessly lost and forlorn. She managed a beautiful transition from young betrayed girl to ghostly spirit in the second act when she joined Myrtha's evil troupe of Wilis. Other choice roles include Juliet in Ben Stevenson's Romeo and Juliet and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club
At first glance, the Big Easy's vicelike grip on the category seems too easily clinched. For a city like Houston, with a sizable amount of blues history, there's a surprising paucity of clubs devoted to the genre. The Dead Club Scythe has killed off the little joints (Miss Ann's Playpen, Silky's) and more upscale venues (Billy Blues, Cactus Moon) with equal vengeance. But no one beats the Big Easy for sheer down-home, roadhouse (albeit on Kirby Drive) funkiness. This no-frills venue boasts a dependable list of local blues and blues-rock regulars (Luther & the Healers, Jeremiah Johnson, Rick Lee, the Mighty Orq) as well as Sunday nights reserved for zydeco. Under the auspices of owner and genuine blues fan/harpist Tom McClendon, the large living-room-size club appeals to the chair listeners and the dance-floor bump-and-grinders equally. Plus, most nights have no cover charge -- which leaves you all the more money to spend at the bar, or on the peerless jukebox.
Readers' choice: The Big Easy
Agora
Photo by Craig Hlavaty
Thanks to prefab Starbucks stores on every block, independent coffeehouses are on the decline. Located in a beautiful two-story house in the heart of Montrose, Agora defies all corporate definitions of an exceptional coffeehouse. Six different brews, including organic and exotic roasts and a great Texas pecan, make up the daily selection. Also available: perfectly pulled shots of espresso, foamy cappuccinos and frozen granitas, which are sure to satisfy during the most extreme summer months. The interior's as warm as a log cabin, with an upper mezzanine that's quiet enough for reading or studying, and offers enough action below for those with a wandering eye. There's plenty of literature, magazines and newspapers scattered around for folks to read. And the terrific jukebox is stocked with jazz, international music and good ol' rock and roll.
Readers' choice: Starbucks
Houston Metropolitan Dance Company
The Houston Met is constantly expanding its repertoire toward ever edgier contemporary jazz dance, and innovative dances full of kinetic thrills. You can count on a Met concert being both engaging and wildly entertaining. Director Michelle Smith has been savvy in selecting choreographers; the rep includes works by Robert Battle, Kevin Wynn, Fred Benjamin and Eddie Ocampo. The dancers, mostly young and full of energy, just keep getting stronger. Resident choreographers/dancers Joe Celej, Marlana Walsh and Kiki Lucas also show promise. Their snazzy fusion style should appeal to anyone interested in dance.
Under the guidance of Euripides, one of the oldest playwrights in Western civilization, Charlie Scott, with Infernal Bridegroom Productions, became a directorial force to be reckoned with last season. His mercurial imagination and thrilling intellect shimmered in every aspect of his astonishing adaptation of Euripides's Medea. Scott, who has been an IBP company member since the troupe's inception, has spent most of his time acting for the company. But his dangerously delicious Medea revealed that he's a whole lot more than another pretty face. His fearless production of the tragedy allowed for moments of outrageous humor and heart-twisting pain to reside side by side on a dark stage filled with the strange and the beautiful. It captured the very soul of Euripides's tragedy and made us see once again why those ancient Greeks are so damned important.

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