Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
The entire 20th century was brought under microscopic scrutiny in this North American premiere courtesy of the Dallas Theater Center and director Preston Lane, who made a revelatory debut as a main-season captain after he had previously worked at the perennial task of resweetening DTC's hard-candy fave A Christmas Carol. We've grown so accustomed to the computer-created special effects provided by weather-driven disaster flicks like A Perfect Storm that we forget their major dramatic thrust is entrapment, forced intimacy, unlikely alliances, major decisions made in stressfully minor allotments of time--in other words, the mtier of theatrical tension. Inexpressible Island was the fictionalized true account of a group of British explorers in 1912 sailing to the South Pole. They didn't reach their goal, but were instead sequestered for months inside a carved-out ice cave, bickering over raisins and seal fat and the English proprieties that were a clumsy fit inside this icy hell. The ruling officers attempted to keep order through various disciplinary mind games and the academic lectures of a comrade too learned on contemporary art and history and literature for everyone's good. The men are driven almost to mutiny by the impudent disordering of faith and logic and traditional narrative of which he earnestly speaks. With screeching winds, a slick and steep stage level, and a backdrop of crazily kaleidoscopic night stars, Inexpressible Island kept everyone--actors and audience--unsteady and unsettled. Sadly, after making such a strong mainstage directorial impression, Lane is heading to North Carolina in 2001 to open his own theater.
Of course, we have no harbor for the tall ships to float into. No signature bridges to decorate. No peaks or buttes to illuminate with fireworks. We are a seat of commerce, a maze of office buildings and malls stitched together by roads. So why not celebrate the reopening of our own Mother Road with a parade? What could be more fitting in a city where there are more cars than people? So make your own parade and drive it while it's congestion-free. We hear 2.5 million more people are on the way, and at least 1.25 million of them drive fat-assed Suburbans.
In these highly litigious times when frivolous lawsuits are filed by too many lawyers clogging up too few courts, it's a rare judge that can remain even-handed as well as even-tempered. Hartman is part of that rare breed. Believing that talk is cheap and mediation is even cheaper, he is the most ardent proponent of alternative dispute resolution. His views on its propriety as a prelude to legal warfare have been adopted throughout the county. In recent years, he has been plagued by illness (Parkinson's disease). Lesser men would have succumbed to its ravages with growing impatience, but you can still get a fair hearing in his court, as well as a helping hand and a kind word. Judge Hartman still rides high in the Dallas Bar Association popularity contest known as the Bar poll, scoring in the 90 percentile range ever since he was a baby judge.
At intermission during this remarkable, semi-autobiographical world premiere from resident playwright Linda Daugherty, a DCT official commented that Webb's unnerving submersion into the role of a Down's Syndrome teenager was especially striking, because "he's the pretty boy in the company." Generally speaking, we don't shower accolades on pretty performers just because they've decided to black out a tooth or revel in a disability just to prove their "range." Yet we were so startled by Webb's wet, gaping mouth, his half-sensical spray of speech, and the cursiveness with which he went from temper tantrums to eager hugs, that we attributed facial prosthetics that weren't there to the performance. This production was a difficult, even dangerous step for Webb and Dallas Children's Theatre as a whole. It was important that the kids in the audience be able to stare at his character and ask questions so they could be educated, yet similar cruel curiosity helps make life with a Down's person so arduous. How to indulge drama without encouraging a freak show atmosphere? All parties acquitted themselves beautifully, mostly because they were so honest about painful emotions. Webb reported some personal flinch-worthy moments when older children would laugh, but for the most part, the theater was silent as a graveyard when he shuffled onstage, fearlessly authentic.
Set in a trailer park on the outskirts of Dallas, this dark little play that won awards and rave reviews off-Broadway revolves around a dysfunctional family determined to have Momma bumped off so Worthless Son can get together some quick insurance money to pay off a drug debt. When you need a job like that done fast and efficiently, whom do you call? A Dallas cop (played in the original New York production by Scott Glenn) with a busy off-the-clock sideline that has earned him the nickname "Killer Joe." The author's mom, successful novelist Billie Letts (Where the Heart Is), says of her boy, "Everybody in Tracy's stories gets naked or dead." A fascinating evening in the theater unless you work for the Dallas police or the Chamber of Commerce.
The library system definitely deserves its due from the citizenry, especially the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library. While good ol' J. Erik doesn't have all that he needs (and deserves), the catalog is deep enough that you are sure to find most of what you are looking for, and the staff is helpful in aiding your search through the stacks. If a book is available at another branch, they'll transport it to a branch nearest you, and if the book you want is checked out, they'll send you a friendly postcard when it returns. The library is also a great place to check out children's books, and many libraries offer story-time hours for families. The genealogy section is always crammed with silver foxes, and there are excellent Texas history collections. You can find socialist newspapers in the lobby of the parking garage. And many homeless people quietly use the Internet, reading sports sites and sending e-mail to fellow homeless. With all these unheralded pluses, why not direct some resources to fill the minuses?