Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Theatergoers who know his work smile when they see B.J. Cleveland's name in the program. Something about his moonfaced mug just glows, and when he's really on, he could light up a five-state area. Now in his 25th season as artistic director at Theatre Arlington, Cleveland has acted in 362 roles (by his count) since he started in showbiz at age 6. He's averaged no fewer than six shows a year since and doesn't plan to slow down. Last season's highlight was his romp as Mad King Ludwig in Uptown Players' Valhalla. This season he'll be directing Studs Terkel's Working at TA and then acting in Moonlight and Magnolias. He's played The Music Man and George M! and giggled like a goose in a white wig as Mozart in Amadeus. Happy to play the sad clown, Cleveland is the area's funniest character actor. All those comparisons to Nathan Lane don't even bother him anymore. "Physically I would covet being synonymous with Brad Pitt," he says. "But there's lots of life left for character actors. Take that, Zac Efron!"
Call us lame, but we've gotten to the point where we sometimes enjoy a Good Records in-store a lot more than a club show. No smoke, no late nights, no cover charge, no drive to Denton, no drunken sound guys with a bass fetish. It's all of the fun without the majority of the hassles. And guess what? When you watch a show with a bunch of record nerds and bloggers, people actually seem to listen, which is really what it's all about. So grab a six-pack and stop in the next time there's a band playing. They'll probably be good. And if they're not, just remember, it was free and there's always the parking lot.
Soon the formerly conservative Rod Dreher will find himself to the left of our very own Jim Schutze. Dreher's leftward lurch began when he came out of the closet as an environmentalist. Then he penned a column admitting that his support for the invasion of Iraq was a total mistake. He would later announce his opposition to capital punishment. Finally, he wrote that he has problems with, well, capitalism and big business. At this rate, in a year or so, Dreher will write in favor of unionizing welfare recipients. For sure, there have been times when Dreher's evolution (our word) has been hard to watch, like seeing a college freshman change his stripes midway through his first political science class. But Dreher's honesty and insight always manage to shine through the awkwardness of his revelations. Here's the sound of our left hand clapping.
Public Trust owner/director Brian Gibb moved from Denton to a space on Commerce Street in 2006 and people crammed the joint, spilling out of the door and onto the asphalt. The Public Trust makes art a party and everyone's invited. Over the course of the last year, and through a transition from Art Prostitute into the Public Trust, the gallery has showcased impressively diverse exhibitions featuring local and national artists. We've seen skateboard art, simple drawings, tiny art, giant art, group shows, mad paintings, stuffed objects, photographs and more. And we're willing to bet those gallery peeps had fun through every show, which is part of what makes TPT a place you truly want to be. Their receptions are as friendly as house parties, often with crazy-good DJs and a little hooch to boot. The price of the work is friendly to the budget-minded and the well-heeled, just like the gallery itself.
There's no shame in diggin' on a little Starland Vocal Band or some Supertramp. Don't feel bad if you truly love Judy Collins. There's a place for you where people understand. That place is in Mesquite and it's a radio station with high school kids for DJs who probably have no idea whom they're playing. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt because they crank out the '70s Top 40 as if wool dickeys and macramé owls were back in style. With Robert Bass in the music director's chair, the station offers all the best from the age of super-sappy love songs. Jim Croce and Ambrosia never had it so good, even back before they had songs on albums that weren't Time/Life collections.
On September 13, former Dallas Morning News TV critic Ed Bark posted to his Web site, which he calls a blog, a handful of wonderful photos of Mark Cuban sweating his ass off and making his "O" face whilst rehearsing for ABC's Dancing With the Stars. Man looked like he was going to have a heart attack; we're not sure he'd make it through a single episode of Crawling With the Stars. Ed got the snaps and the interviews with the Mavs owner because Ed's got clout and chops from two-plus decades at Dallas' Only Daily, where he accrued the rep as "the dean of American TV critics," as Kansas City Star's Aaron Barnhart wrote of Bark when he took Belo's buyout one year ago. We'll admit we're not as enamored of Uncle Barky's obsession with local TV news ratings as we should be, but Ed's coverage of local TV news goings on has been invaluable: He's the one who kept us informed of the doings at KTVT-Channel 11 during the Regent Ducas era; he watched Anchorwoman when no one else wanted to; and he still goes to Los Angeles on his own dime to cover the fall and spring season previews, since The Dallas Morning News is still too cheap and short-sighted to employ a freaking TV critic. He's providing content about content. At least Ed's still bringing something to the table, which is more than most of us can say in the crowded but somehow always lonely blogosphere.
Sam Merten's coverage of Dallas City Council meetings on DallasBlog is a must-read for political junkies, capturing the drama, intrigue and the contentiousness that the daily paper often overlooks. We were particularly impressed with his dispatch on the debate over allowing Trammell Crow to raze a safe, modest apartment complex for a strip mall. Add Merten's no-fuss journalism to his well-sourced reporting on the Trinity River debate and you have all the evidence you need that local blogging doesn't have to be all about opinion, conjecture and frivolity. Instead, it can give you a bigger bite of what's going on in your fair city than the big-dog news outlets.
Come on, admit it. For sheer guts alone, you have to hand it to freshman city council member Angela Hunt, who stood up to the entire bunch on the Trinity River toll road issue. What makes Hunt the best council member is not so much the position she took on that river thing, but that she had the courage to do it and not be a nut case about it. When we read about her or see her on the tube, she's always calm, cool and collected. And except for the Trinity deal, she seems to play well with others. It's something about being smart, thinking for herself and doing what she thinks is right. Is that not a plan?
This DJ shit sometimes gets on our nerves, what with the boy culture and the wheelspinners' propensity to try to out-obscure each other at the expense of alienating the dance floor. Oh, and then there's that whole club mindset, in which anything that's not house music with a beat that sounds like a cat barfing isn't considered danceable. That's where DJ Wild in the Streets comes in; she's adept at digging some gems out of her crate that will please the purist and the casual booty-shaker alike, all without succumbing to remix fever. This is a woman who knows that if you provide the international pop, the Stax classic and the classic backbeat, they will come.
For stand-up comedians, stage time trumps all, including spouses, children, international incidents and most major sporting events. There's nothing more important than the opportunity to make drunk people laugh. It's about gaining experience, about learning what makes the masses guffaw. Nobody knows this better than Linda Stogner and Jan Norton, who, for the past 15 years, have hosted comedy shows in the backs of bowling alleys, delis, pizza parlors and other unlikely venues. Calling their operation the "Backdoor Comedy Showcase," Stogner and Norton have championed both up-and-coming and veteran comics. They were booted from their first official comedy-only space on Ross Avenue this year to make room for another soulless corporate headquarters, but that hasn't stopped the pair, who continue to host shows anywhere they can draw a crowd. For that, we give them our most sincere rubber chicken salute.
Couple problems here. "Metro Politics" really isn't a column. It's a little explanatory title that the News puts over stories by Gromer Jeffers, local political reporter. And Jeffers isn't supposed to be considered a columnist. But the larger truth is that Jeffers is a better columnist than any of the typists at the News who are supposed to be columnists. He takes you inside local government. (If you happened to read his take on why the proposed University of North Texas law school at Dallas died in the Legislature, for example, you saw that it got doused in a pissing match between state Senator Royce West and state Representative Yvonne Davis, both Democrats of Dallas.) Jeffers also gives you some flavor for where and when politics gets done in the real world. Seems like half his stories include references to stuff said at tables or just outside the front door of Brooklyn Jazz Café. That's cool. If the News was smart, they'd stick his picture on top of his stories and call him an official DMN columnist. No, wait. Better to leave him where he is: as the best columnist who isn't one.
The Kettle Art Gallery really shouldn't exist. In a missive on the official Kettle Art Web site, co-owners Frank Campagna and Kirk Hopper admit that they rarely represent artists who sell work for bucketloads of cash. They have no major benefactor and don't live in the space or hold fund-raisers—all elements that keep most galleries afloat. To top it off, they're in Deep Ellum, the neighborhood everyone's been told to run far, far away from. But anyone who's been to Kettle knows better. Their strip of Elm Street is thriving. Campagna's and Hopper's marathon exhibition schedule, featuring everything from tattoo artists' works to horror-themed shows, keeps the gallery walls full of fresh new work from both underground and prominent local artists. It's all a mighty fine affront to conventional attitudes about how to make and sell art.