Outside of Dallas, too many people think there's no great theater happening inside of Dallas. We know better. Besides the giant venues with the name of a telecommunications giant attached to them, there are a bunch of more interesting, smaller playhouses where local actors, directors and playwrights are putting new work and the classics on stages large and small. Here are our current favorites.
1. Bath House Cultural Center (Shown Above) Built in 1930, this really was a place where bathers changed into swim togs before plunging into the then-swimmable waters of White Rock Lake. After sitting vacant for nearly 30 years, the Bath House (521 E. Lawther Drive at Northcliff) reopened in 1981 as a neighborhood cultural center, with many features of its Art Deco architecture restored.
The building now is home to an art gallery and several theater companies, including One Thirty Productions (which performs on a matinee-only schedule), WingSpan Theatre Company, Echo Theatre and the annual Festival of Independent Theatres. Audience-wise, the space is a comfy fit for 150 and has such good acoustics there's no need for microphones on the actors. Currently running: WingSpan's production of Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, starring the great Stephanie Dunnam, through October 26.
2. Ochre House Actor-director-playwright Matthew Posey took a pokey storefront by Fair Park (825 Exposition Avenue) and turned it into a hot spot for experimental, avant garde theatricals. Posey and his Balanced Almond Productions do only new work, mostly written by Posey, putting up eight to 10 new shows a year. From his X-rated puppet comedies to his fresh takes on Icarus and Long Day's Journey, Posey's theater has become Dallas' version of Chicago's Steppenwolf. It's also a gemütlich little space, with only about 40 seats nudged right up against the tiny stage. Every ticket comes with free wine or beer, plus a chat with the actors after every performance. Coming up next: El Conde Dracula, a spooky new drama with flamenco dancing, written and directed by Matthew Posey, October 22-25.
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3. Dallas Children's Theater There's no better place to introduce the young 'uns to performing arts than this sleek, multi-million-dollar theater that used to be a bowling alley (5938 Skillman Street at Northwest Highway). Cast with professional Equity actors (including a lot of local stars), the shows here are big-budget, highly entertaining (for all ages) and designed on the scale of Broadway productions. Every performance ends with a lobby meet-greet-and-snap with the costumed actors. Now playing: North Texas premiere of The Cat in the Hat (the new version of the play based on the Dr. Seuss books that was originally produced by the National Theatre of Great Britain), starring Brendan Cyrus, through October 27.
4. Kalita Humphreys Theater Frank Lloyd Wright's only theatrical design (3636 Turtle Creek Blvd.) is more than a half-century old and showing some wear and tear. The interior needs new paint and carpet (where's the Kickstarter campaign, kids?) and the air conditioning/heating system is iffy. But actors and audiences still love this space for its comfy chairs, intimate atmosphere (with 400 seats, it feels smaller and there are no bad sight lines), excellent acoustics and free parking. Dallas Theater Center has moved its permanent home to the new Wyly Theatre downtown but still does the occasional production back at Kalita, its original space.
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Meanwhile, Uptown Players has taken over Kalita's revolving stage for its full season. They also produce an annual Gay Pride Arts Festival that uses the main theater and the upstairs Frank's Place black box for performances. Next up: Uptown's holiday comedy, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told by Paul Rudnick, December 5-15.
5. Pocket Sandwich Theater This is not where you go for serious drama, for Shakespeare or Sondheim. But "the Pocket," as regulars call it, provides a fun night of live low-brow entertainment. Stuck in a corner of a shopping center (5400 E. Mockingbird, across from Mockingbird Station), Pocket Sandwich is a for-profit enterprise that produces goofy melodramas and broad comedies.
Audiences are urged to play along by tossing popcorn (provided in plastic baskets) at the baddies while cheering the heroes. Many a newbie actor has gotten his or her start here, dodging the flying kernels. Audiences can order from the menu of stuffed taters and nachos, and watch shows from booths and tables. They don't call it dinner theater, but that's what it is. Shows typically are teen-friendly, making Pocket a favorite for birthday gatherings. Now playing: Werewolf of London, The Melodrama, through November 16.