Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Veteran supporters of small, envelope-pushing theater companies get used to all kinds of onstage extremes: full nudity, sweaty sex, rampant profanity, murder, even blasphemous shots aimed at organized religion. But anyone who attended this year's Festival of Independent Theatres and caught Cara Mia's entry, a miniproduction of California playwright Rick Najera's Latinologues, got an earful of vicious racial stereotypes redeemed with a vaudevillian sense of taking control through laughter. Director Marisela Barrera guided her two performers, Marco Rodriguez and Otis Gray, into a series of skits involving a lustful Martin Luther King Jr., fried chicken and "I Have a Dream"; a Japanese-American thanking the U.S. government for being sent to an internment camp during World War II; and a Mexican Moses who tries to save his people while wheeling around a janitor's mop and bucket. Gray and Rodriguez boasted crack timing, nobody was spared, and the evening ended with the feeling of a successful exorcism. Interesting (but unscientific) observation: White ticketbuyers appeared more nervous about laughing than either blacks or Hispanics.
Some galleries trumpet their so-called hot artists with more pageantry. Other spaces are more conceptually ambitious (Angstrom). One has an indisputable track record that marries respectability and quality (Barry Whistler). And some have more consistently solid shows year-round (Photographs Do Not Bend). But Joe Allen's Purple Orchid and Randall Garrett's Plush--not necessarily a joint venture, though they share the same entrance--have one thing that has singularly enlivened the Dallas art scene in their two-year existence: reckless, unadulterated enthusiasm. Willing to try anything once--and maybe twice if it went poorly, just to make sure--exhibitions at Purple Orchid and Plush are frequently as mind-numbing as they are mind-melting, but that's part of their charm. They provide a ribald reminder that there's more to a gallery than pushing the work off the walls and into the homes of Highland Park.
Anticipating disagreement and dissent, please allow us to make one thing nice and sparkling clear: We feel your scorn, and we accept it. With something as subjective as art, you have to go with your gut, and this year ours points to sculptor and occasional armchair comic Erick Swenson. The University of North Texas graduate's delicate, surreal creatures would read like imaginary natural history dioramas if you could intellectualize them past their beauty, but usually you're left picking up your jaw off the floor. Plus, his activity over the past year has taken place outside of the area, warranting nary a drop of local ink. Swenson was part of the three-person, season-opening show at Chelsea's Andrea Rosen Gallery last fall alongside Keith Edmier and Australia's burgeoning art star Ricky Swallow. His new piece in that exhibition--"Muncie," his second cape piece following the breathtaking "Untitled (Cape Piece)" that debuted at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth's spring 2000 exhibition, Natural Deceits--was purchased by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. One of his earlier works, "Edgar"--which comes from his most recent local solo show, 1998's Obviously A Movie at the Angstrom Gallery, which represents him--was included in The Big Id group show at New York's James Cohan Gallery this past spring. Swenson's latest piece--another untitled work that features a rug he meticulously crafted out of plastic that looks lush enough to nap upon--is on view through November 4 at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art in a two-person show with Swallow, who chose Swenson for the exhibition.
As important as Martin Sherman's Bent is to the world stage canon--it was one of the first major works in any field to acknowledge the Third Reich's persecution of gay men--the play hasn't aged terribly well. It's didactic, melodramatic and sensationalistic--or can be, in careless hands. John Templin and Jeff Sprague, co-founders of Fort Worth's Sage & Silo Theatre, didn't attempt to liberate Bent from any of its excesses. Indeed, they added a new one worthy of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom--Chris Steele, Dallas-based star of international hits like Uncle Jack and Steele Pole. Steele spent a good 10 minutes strolling the stage buck naked before his throat was cut by an SS officer. He wasn't bad, although it's difficult to judge objectively: He had more tan lines than stage lines.
Based on our childhood memories of the cartoon series, we thought Casper The Friendly Ghost was about life after death, not the messy business of dying. This summer's four-city tour of Casper The Musical crawled into Dallas with vital signs barely registering and proceeded to meet a very long, noisy, smelly demise on the stage of the Fair Park Music Hall. Writers David Bell and Stephen Cole did a major overhaul from the show's disastrous London premiere, adding a scenery-chewing role that Broadway legend Chita Rivera stepped into between legit gigs. The subplot about reality-based TV programming and the World Wide Web--Casper is in danger of becoming a media mogul's pawn--was as inexplicably tacky as the flat, foldable sets.
Next year will mark Jane McGarry's 20th anniversary at the station, and we couldn't be happier that she's still around. She's not a self-promoter like Ashleigh Banfield was at Channel 4, she doesn't pontificate about the importance of television news like Channel 11's Tracy Rowlett, and she isn't as chirpy and fun as Channel 8 stalwart Gloria Campos (last year's winner). McGarry, though, understands the first rule of television news reading: Be likable. They're all reading the same headlines, each one of them reporting the same stories about DISD, DART and hail damage in Frisco. The good ones know that if everyone took a newspaper--hell, if everyone just logged on and news-surfed 10 minutes a day--they would be irrelevant. So, be charming. Look nice. Sound pleasant. Do no harm. Be sincere. Appear concerned or happy when appropriate. Just be there, on TV, day after day, week after week, for about 20 years or so, and then you can be known as an "institution." Only then will you be loved, respected and praised for doing what is, essentially, highbrow monkey work. Only then will some rag name you Best Local TV News Anchor. McGarry understands this. Bless her heart.