—————————————————— Best Actor 2010 | Lance Marshall in Theatre Southwest's Bug | Best of Houston® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Houston | Houston Press

In Tracy Letts's nightmare Bug, Lance Marshall inhabited his character so fully, he put us on the edge of our seats out of sheer panic — and fascination. As the story went, way off-center skinhead Peter appeared in the squalid apartment of down-and-out Agnes, needing a place to crash. Suffering from delusions and medical experiments, this Gulf War vet — or so he claimed — was as screwed up as one could get. Yet Marshall revealed Peter's internal scars gradually, allowing the horrors to intensify. Those downcast eyes, ever-shifting, became beams. His doper shakes became paroxysms. The bugs were in there; they were growing under his skin. He was infested with them, with something deep and terrifying. He scratched and clawed at them. Love took a wicked-wrong turn as Peter zoomed into psychosis, dragging Agnes down with him. Marshall kept us mesmerized by this over-the-top, ultramodern Grand Guignol. He never let up. His unbearable pressure, nicely calibrated through director Ananka Kohnitz, reached full boil and blew the roof off Theatre Southwest. And that was before he wrenched out his tooth with a pair of pliers.

Playing a real-life diva is no walk in the park, especially when your model is opera diva assoluta Maria Callas. But we'd go anywhere with Celeste Roberts after her spellbinding performance in Terrence McNally's bit of open-heart surgery, Master Class. Without singing a note, Roberts conjured the very voice of Callas: attitude, star quality, insufferable ego and gigantic insecurities. As she drilled her hapless trio of students in the fine art of singing — when she permitted them a moment to perform — Roberts opened up Callas's private world that once included incredible fame, her brutish lover Aristotle Onassis, her nemesis Jacqueline Kennedy and her rival singers (although to be fair, there were no singers who could touch Callas). Roberts gave us the heartache without sentimentality, the talent behind the ego and the woman behind the myth. It's a tour de force role, full of earthy fire and bursts of volcanic temperament, and Roberts (one of Houston's finest artists) sailed into the stratosphere like a shooting star.

The breadth and scope of this spring's Mixed Rep: Escape to Europe by the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater leaves no question about the winner for this year's Best Dance Performance. The three-work program included the United States premiere of Small Hour by Czech choreographer Václav Kuneš, a reprise of Pression by Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti, and a revival of Walsh's own I Napoletani, an homage to illustrious Naples. Moving easily from athletic and powerful to graceful and delicate, somber and intense to witty and carefree, the DWDT performers were nothing short of mesmerizing, making the evening a must-see for local dance fans. Especially impressive was Pression, with Walsh and Domenico Luciano alternating performances with Ty Parmenter and Randolph Ward.

It's been quite a year for Trae tha Truth. When six people were wounded by gunfire at the end of last year's Trae Day, which combines an all-day concert with community-outreach initiatives like a food drive and HIV testing, it touched off a chain of events that culminated in the rapper being banned from 97.9 The Box and his subsequent lawsuit against the local radio station and its parent company Radio One. While Trae's suit — which alleges that The Box has not only banned both his own songs and any songs on which he appears as a guest, but fired several on-air personalities for playing his music (even on their own time) and refused to advertise for any event Trae is connected with in any way — may be quixotic at best, it has already brought the rapper more attention than even a hit single would. However, he's also had one of those this year in "Inkredible," featuring Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, and has used the avalanche of publicity surrounding the lawsuit to hype his Angels by Nature nonprofit agency as much as (if not more than) his next album.

It's hard to stand out among the hundreds of participating photographers during FotoFest, but David Brown did so easily this year. His "trying to find my way" exhibition at Darke Gallery was a highlight of the festival. Brown, whom many know as the founder of Spacetaker, trained as a sculptor under Luis Jimenez. When he later made the leap to photography, that background added an extra element to his work. For the "trying to find my way" exhibit, Brown shot a series of street scenes as reflected on shop windows using a Sigma DP1 camera, capturing images both inside and outside of the stores (one photograph showed a Goodwill store window, the furniture and clothing on display inside layered under a ghostly image of the clouds and street outside). According to Brown, a person looking at the same window would physically see all of the same imagery, but his brain would compress the images into something less confusing. Using a lenticular printing process added to the effect, producing a combination 3-D/holographic/WTF image that seemed to move when seen from different angles. The show was a surprising breath of fresh air for art fans that were in danger of a FotoFest overload.

Spacetaker is a nonprofit arts collective "whose mission is to provide artists and nonprofits access to economic development, continuing education and networking opportunities to support their professional growth." And what better way to network than to do so with alcohol? So every Thursday, Spacetaker and Boheme invite a different arts group to a special happy hour event, from 5 to 10 p.m. There's no shortage of talented artists and crazy creative folk in Houston, so there's always something eye-opening each week. Come learn, drink, mingle and drink. And did we say drink?

The recent proliferation of Internet-based jukeboxes is a perfect example of too much of a good thing. No matter how cool the owners of a bar, no matter how refined their ears, they can't stop their clientele from making terrible choices with the music. Not long ago, we were regaled with the greatest hits of Van fucking Halen while chilling in a lounge on Almeda, a boulevard on which one's ears should feast on soul alone. Robbie's sidesteps that type of problem by sticking with an old-fashioned CD jukebox and stocking it with the good stuff: cry-in-your-beer honky-tonk from dive bar patron saints Gene Watson, Ray Price and Gary Stewart and choogling boogie-blues by folks like Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo. It's hard to believe, but limited though choice selections like that are getting harder and harder to find.

For Pegstar founder Jagi Katial, watching thousands of Houstonians and out-of-towners get blissfully swept up in the Flaming Lips' psychedelic menagerie at Free Press Summerfest 2010 must have felt like sweet, sweet validation. Since 2003, Katial and his small staff have had to endure all manner of pooh-poohing from the local media, booking agents and sometimes the artists themselves that Houston Just Isn't That Kind of Town — that what Austin and Denton embrace, Houston shuns, if not outright ridicules. But Pegstar persevered, carving out a third way in a live-music climate where corporate behemoths like Live Nation left the unproven or unprofitable scraps for shoestring operations like Super Unison or the late Hands Up Houston. Since finding its footing in 2004 and really getting going in 2005 and '06, Pegstar has regularly programmed shows in both marquee rooms like Warehouse Live and House of Blues and indie-friendly venues Walter's on Washington and Mango's, making the festival-size triumph of Summerfest a sweet victory indeed.

Author and Rice University Professor Justin Cronin, who had previously written literary fiction, wrote one of this year's most anticipated books, The Passage, in answer to his daughter's request that he write a book where a girl saves the world. Cronin's response was a 766-page science fiction novel set in the postapocalyptic near future. A military experiment that was meant to extend the human lifespan has instead created immortal killing machines that have a ravenous thirst for blood (read: vampires), and the fate of humankind is in the hands of one little girl who might be the key to a cure. Before Cronin was done with the book, a bidding war broke out among publishers, with Ballantine eventually winning the rights for a three-book deal for about $3.7 million. Filmmaker Ridley Scott ponied up another $1.75 for film rights, and suddenly Cronin was sitting on almost $5.5 million in advances for a book no one had even seen yet. So while there's no question that Justin Cronin richly deserves the nod as best local author, we do have one inquiry for him: Dude, you're a millionaire, why are you still working?

"Decor?" you may well be thinking. "At Walter's? What decor?" Normally, you might have a point — usually the decor at Walter's is limited to the sign above the stage bearing the club's name. But this award is for atmosphere and decor, and the atmosphere at Walter's is as laid-back and unpretentious as its relatively new Washington Avenue neighbors are snooty and velvet-rope/dress-code restrictive. Just don't act like a jerk at the scrappy live-music venue and you'll be okay; do, and you can fully expect Walter's more-than-capable security staff to suggest (firmly if need be) you seek your entertainment and adult refreshments elsewhere. And as for the decor, the blank walls and generous sightlines make an ideal milieu for the talent's flights of artistic fancy, whether it's hometown favorites the Wild Moccasins turning the club into a confetti-strewn carnival at one of their tour kickoff shows, or visitors like Baltimore's Beach House stringing enough Christmas lights to make Walter's resemble an undersea prom in the lost city of Atlantis.

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