There are no trendy sushi spots. No "fete set." No designer dogs. If that's what you want, you don't move to Lakewood. The best local eateries are a pizza joint (Scalini's), a coffee shop (Legal Grounds) and a Tex-Mex joint (Matt's). But don't mistake this lack of ostentation for want of dinero. Nice traps on the boulevard run $800,000 and up, and starter prices in the back sections top $300,000. For that you get the big hardwood trees, the historic architecture, the tight neighborhood association and some of the smoothest streets in town.
After Democratic state Senator Royce West refused to give Republican state Senator John Carona a day's delay to consider changes to a piece of legislation, Carona, who is 9 inches shorter than West, came bounding across the Senate floor and poked his index finger into the chest of West. Carona huffed and puffed, and West told him to back off and may have done some finger-pointing in his own defense. Even though West may have been disrespecting Carona to begin with, the statewide media interpreted the altercation as a huge breach of decorum on Carona's part. That attitude hasn't helped bolster the low opinion some hold of Carona's politics already. They see him as a water carrier for special interest groups, including the apartment industry.

This past year hasn't been uniformly stellar for Fort Worth's Jubilee Theatre: Its 2000 production of Black Nativity was watered-down by a mix of amateur singing and movement, and Hedy Understands Anxiety turned a career woman's hunt for the truth about her mother into a symphony of shouting, hand-wringing and brow-knitting. But the glittering successes made us feel like members of the Mile High Club--floating in midair from and ravished by sheer theatrical prowess. Coop De Ville: Time-Travelin' Brother, the sequel to Jubilee's oft-revived Negroes in Space, took musical inspiration from Parliament/Funkadelic and the Stax/Volt label as Robert Rouse saved an order of nuns who worship James Brown and wear Prince's erstwhile name-symbol on their gowns; Fat Freddy's was another rollicking original musical with one showstopper after another, in which Carolyn Hatcher and Sheran Goodspeed-Keyton fend off suitors in a mythical after-hours dive. Jubilee proved it could turn the volume down for equally impressive dramatic forays. Lonne Elder III's seminal 1965 Ceremonies in Dark Old Men vividly explained the easy lure and easier rationalizations of crime in an urban neighborhood saturated with it, prophesying troubles that plagued the black community for the next 35 years. But the modest stunner that carried emotional resonance far beyond its tiny "Christian" apartment setting in Philadelphia--and beyond Jubilee itself--was A Love Song For Miss Lydia. Director Rudy Eastman saw to it that Mary Catherine Keaton Jordan, younger than her aged role but brilliantly believable, was heartbreaking as the title character who gets new hope from an aggressive, flattering boarder (Lloyd W.L. Barnes Jr.) just as she thought her life was winding down.
It's been quite a year for Pat Watson, the technical director over set construction at Dallas Children's Theater who's emerged as one of the city's most versatile performers on the basis of a very short résumé--four roles at Pegasus and two with Theatre Quorum. He displays a strangely serene authority that travels well from futuristic political satires to intentionally silly musicals to tense psychological dramas. Sound-Biting had him reproducing Dubya's myopic squint and smugly ingratiating smile as a gubernatorial candidate who changes positions in mid-televised debate as the poll numbers change based on viewers' mercurial tastes. He played the villain Black Bart in Cowboys!, a musical about gay cowpokes trying to save the ranch, and turned a manipulative seduction into a personal revelation for his character--Bart really does like kissing guys--with one body-melting pratfall. In One Good Beating at the Festival of Independent Theatres, he was the timid kid brother trapped between his cruel father and coercive sister, between a desire for revenge and a fear of his own impotence. It may not be possible for Watson to surprise us with another facet of his range, but we look forward to finding out.

Ironically, one of the ultimate compliments to any actor is not recognizing her--that is, not realizing that you've seen one performer play two different roles, because she's utterly consumed inside each character. Holly Hickman fooled and startled us with two performances at Fort Worth's Stage West. They required shifts in technique and tone--from profane street hood to grieving Irish mother--that Hickman achieved with the delicate mastery that comes not from acting, but from being. In Conor McPherson's deeply sad collection of ghost stories, The Weir, she was a single professional woman from Dublin invited into a pub full of lonely men swapping tales. A tearful Hickman recounted her brush with the supernatural--her drowned daughter making a telephone call asking her mother to please help her--and it was an extraordinary expression of the agony of surviving a loved one's death. Jane Martin's Criminal Hearts cast her as a trash-talking burglar and con artist who conspires with a repressed society matron (an equally captivating Emily Scott Banks) to roll the latter's husband (Gray Palmer). This highly implausible comedy--even by the elastic standards of theatrical farce--ensnared us thanks to Hickman's tomboy sexiness and volatile temper.
Adelina Anthony studied under Cora Cardona at Teatro Dallas and founded Cara Mia Theatre before moving to Los Angeles to dedicate herself to cultivating the lesbian Latina presence in American theater. Lest you think this fiercely intelligent artist double-bound herself artistically with partisan minority perspectives--a charge that's rarely leveled at the countless folks who are happy to exclusively explore the hetero, Anglo life--she brought to Dallas the world premiere of Cherrie Moraga's surprisingly universal The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea. As both director and star, Anthony had the rarefied vision and ability to reveal myriad places where sexuality and ethnicity overlap, tangle and strangle us in our pursuit to make contact with one another. Set in a dystopian world where the races have balkanized themselves, and homosexuals are the lepers common to each tribe, The Hungry Woman rejected finger-pointing and victimization thanks to Anthony's guidance; it was far more concerned with the common illusions that afflict us all than with unilateral blame. She also turned in a bravely unsympathetic lead performance as a woman warrior overcome as much by her own angry pride as the cultural forces that try to make her choose between narrow identities.
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.

The Dallas powers that be have long felt the sting of one of the biggest criticisms hurled against us--that a city of this size has no efficient method of mass transportation. Last December came the $50 million, eight-years-in-the-making CityPlace Light Rail Stop, the region's first--and very short--taste of what living in a city with a subway is like. It allows patrons to travel from our still-dormant downtown to a Central Expressway location around which is clustered a movie theater, a Target and the corporate headquarters of 7-Eleven. But as with the American Airlines Center, city planners assured us that businesses will flock to CityPlace at an as-yet-undetermined point in the recession.
When Richard Curtin talks about overseeing the activities of "the girls and the boys," don't mistake him for a kindergarten teacher. As entertainment director for Caven Enterprises, Dallas' largest owner of lesbian and gay bars and clubs, it's Curtin's responsibility to coax, pester, nudge and generally troubleshoot for "the girls"--the drag artists--and "the boys"--the male dancers--as well as the sometimes rowdy crowds that flock to their performances.

"Most of my work is buffer work," Curtin says, referring to the performers, the paying patrons and the city authorities. "I have to make sure everyone's complying with the law. You have to remember, Dallas is a small town run like a small Baptist church. It's full of small-minded Baptist people waiting for us to screw up."

Since 1998, Curtin has played "den dad" over a one-block stretch of Cedar Springs--or "den mom" during those nights when he's attired as Edna Jean Robinson, his own oily-haired trailer-trash female persona. Five nights a week, starting at about 9:45 p.m. till unspeakable hours of the a.m., Curtin moves through the dressing rooms of the Village Station, Sue Ellen's, Throckmorton Mining Company and J.R.'s Bar & Grill. He has to make sure his boy dancers' buttocks are completely covered: Since none of Caven's operations are zoned as "S.O.B."s (sexually oriented businesses), they can't offer anything that even approximates nudity. And he sees to it that his female impersonators are zipped up, hairsprayed, lipsticked and properly introduced either for special events or for the nightly shows in The Rose Room, the Village Station's drag theater. Interestingly, there are problems common to both the boys and the girls where audiences are concerned.

"I run into patrons expecting too much for their dollar," Curtin says, referring to the tips that are given during midperformance. "They want the dancers to show their business. Or they get mad when the girls don't stop and talk to them long enough during a show. I have to smooth that out, but I also have to make sure that the patrons don't get too much for their money."

As far as the Rose Room's dressing area is concerned, all kinds of images spring to mind: scowling, vain, catty drag queens waiting to sink their red nails into co-stars who stole a move or got a bigger ovation--basically, Paul Verhoeven's camp classic Showgirls with an all-male cast. Curtin acknowledges that this may be true in other venues but testifies without hesitation to the professionalism of his artists.

"Performers come from all across the country, and they're shocked at how friendly and helpful our girls are. They'll let you borrow their jewelry. The Village Station hosts a lot of national title holders--Donna Day, Crystal Summers, Celeste Martinez. If you dedicate your life to something like this, you have to have discipline."

The hour before an 11 p.m. show at the Rose Room is a small tornado of activity. Kelexis Davenport borrows makeup; Cassie Nova is hunting for the can of Spam she uses in her act; Valerie Lohr invariably needs help getting her shoes buckled. Lohr also often requires assistance for the back zipper on her elaborate gowns, and there's only one tool for the job: A pair of needle-nosed pliers is always nearby. "Find the tool!" is a common call on a weekend night in the dressing room.

Once the music is cued, the chattering tables hush, and Curtin makes his introductions. There's only one rule in the Rose Room, and Curtin says it's broken every night--sometimes several times--no matter how often patrons are reminded. Maybe alcohol and hairspray fumes mixed in an unventilated space contribute to delusions of stardom. But invariably, someone near the front will think they're more important than the act--or think that maybe they are the act--and stand or step onto the tiny stage space. If Curtin were to post this rule, it would speak for the girls paid to perform: "Don't stand in front of my spotlight."

Performances happen nightly Wednesday-Sunday at the Village Station, 3911 Cedar Springs. Call 214-526-7171.

Pierre Bradshaw's life is for the birds. Literally. Bradshaw and his wife, Anne, operate On the Wing Again, a sort of halfway house dedicated to wild bird rehab. And this is no small matter. Bradshaw says he took in some 3,000 birds last year--everything from songbirds and ducks to soaring birds of prey--for treatment, care and release back into the wild. He treats everything from poisoned songbirds to an owl pulled from the grill of a semi. Rehabilitation includes working with vets to determine injuries and treatment. About a quarter of the birds brought to him do not survive their injuries.

Yet Bradshaw insists physical rehabilitation is not the most significant part of his 11-year-old business, one that survives exclusively though donations. "In the long run the educational aspect of our organization is more important than the actual rehab," he says. On the Wing Again's educational programs are geared to spawn awareness of the ornithological residents living throughout the city and include the presentation of seven or eight live wild birds unfit for re-release into the wild for various reasons. Bradshaw says he also wants to educate the public on how to recognize when wild birds need to be brought in for care, and when to leave them alone. One of the most common mistakes people make is capturing a bird that appears to be struggling, only to discover it is a baby trying to learn how to fly.

Not surprisingly, the most common bird injuries in Dallas occur when birds--especially migrating birds--fly into the city's tall buildings. In such events, Bradshaw says he works as quickly as possible to put the injured birds back on their journey. "Sometimes they have to be transported to catch up with their migration," he says.

Perhaps the most unexpected thing to learn about Dallas' bird population is the number of birds of prey that make the skyscrapers their homes. Some, such as screech owls, even thrive in the city's environs. "They tend to live real well right in the city," he explains. "They nest in cavities and trees." In addition to owls, there are sparrow hawks, red tail hawks and great horned owls.

Bradshaw's path to North Texas birdman was unusual. A mechanical engineer by trade who configured equipment to be installed on airplanes (his wife is a librarian), Bradshaw says that he and his wife learned the rehab ropes by working with other wild bird rehabbers and sifting through books and publications. "With my wife being a librarian, we do lots of reading," he says.

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