Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
"Big" Al Dupree sings and plays the piano. Very well. From his low perch in front of a piano, Dupree's soft jazz and gentle blues captivate the crowd at The Balcony Club an average of five nights a week, joined by eager Dallas musicians who want to play with the great one. Their eagerness is understandable--in his time, Dupree played with the likes of "T-Bone" Walker, Pee Wee Crayton, and Ike Turner. Dupree is a true Dallas native, born in 1923 and playing in clubs here off and on since he was 14. To hear his gentle, rasping voice and talented ivory ministrations is heaven for jazz fans and an eye-opener to how good the medium can be for the uninitiated. The comfortably small Balcony Club is an ideal place to see the man in action, a showcase not only for the music but a catch basin for the ambience stoked by Dupree's appearances. Band members sip drinks and flirt at the bar until their solos. Regulars greet each other warmly, chat up Al and his band during break, and bask in the live soundtrack of their evening. Dates cuddle and speak softly, the music at a perfect ever-present but soft volume. Long live Al Dupree and his talented cohorts.
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?
No, it's not out yet, and God only knows when Interscope Records plans on releasing it, but Toadies Album No. 2, Stars Above/Hell Below, is finished, a mere six years after Rubberneck hit the shelves. Sure, it's not like the band spent all of that time in the studio--Rubberneck didn't even become a hit until almost two years later--but still. Maybe one day, they'll look back on this and laugh. Nah, probably not.
When local singer-songwriter Colin Boyd sings Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" during one of his various regular engagements around town, you'd swear he'd gotten the song mixed up with James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." In fact, no matter what song Boyd happens to be singing, you'd swear he'd gotten it mixed up with a James Taylor song. The fact is, Boyd makes Jackson Browne sound like speed metal. We've seen stains that are tougher. Maybe it's not that big a deal when Boyd is running through a cover of, say, Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle," but when he's tackling The Man in Black's body of work (during a recent appearance at St. Pete's Blue Marlin, Boyd offered versions of "Ring of Fire" and "I Walk the Line," and we were only there for a half hour), we must take exception. It's like watching Hugh Grant star in a remake of The Searchers. No thanks.
For those who adored the movie Love Jones, there's a Dallas spot that'll set the mood for your poetry. On Sunday nights this little hole-in-the-wall turns the lights down low, lights the candles, fires up the kitchen for a veggie delight, and turns the microphone up. This is a great place to go and relax to the sound of the rhythmic voices of novice poets. The atmosphere is electric, and the talent is vast.
Conduit's Annex Gallery would be considered roomy if there were, say, pants and shirts hanging in it instead of art. Never let it be said, however, that the Annex Gallery didn't make the most of its limited space. Like its counterpart, Conduit Gallery, Annex has opened itself to some of the brightest up-and-coming artists, including the first show by members of Denton's Good/Bad Art Collective in Dallas. As time goes by and a new layer of paint is added every six weeks, Annex only grows smaller, but it'll always have big ideas.
The other day, we were reminded of how little this title really means: We were driving past NorthPark and passed all that remains of the NorthPark I & II, which has been rendered a shell of its former glorious self. Soon enough, the building will be torn down and replaced by a department store, which is the last thing this town needs more of (Dallas is French for "mall"). Ours was a happy childhood spent waiting in line at the NorthPark I & II; it was where we saw Star Wars and Superman for the first time, spread out from wall to wall in a theater where space was the final frontier. But in the city that spawned the googaplex (the AMC Grand, with its 24 screens, was once the largest theater in the country), the NorthPark I & II was deemed a dinosaur, and all that remains are the bones. Until the Angelika and the new Landmark art-house multiplex open up at the end of the year, we're left only with decaying vestiges of grandeur (the Inwood, which we'll always treasure), the last gasps of intimacy (the AMC Highland Park, where every theater feels like your own screening room--or TV screen), low-frills gourmet movie-going (the Granada and its dine-out spawn), and the megaplexes, with their stadium seating and chicken-strip cuisine. The Cinemark 17, with its new IMAX add-on, is the best of the lot. Every seat's a winner, the "coffee shop" in front serves up a tasty movie-food alternative, the arcade makes for a great time- and dollar-waster, and, oh yeah, you can see some movies if you're up to it.
OK, we hesitated about this one. Sometimes the only listener we'll concede that Mitchell deserves during one of his more lackluster afternoons is Dan from Tyler, a regular caller to various public radio shows. Then again, finding five scintillating topics a week (and exciting speakers to discuss those topics) is no small undertaking. At least once or twice a week, Mitchell hits his stride, and he invites a well-informed guest and asks him well-informed questions. We favor the times he reads something in a mildly erudite periodical (The Nation, The National Review) and invites the author to discuss the subject.