The Purple Cow
You know how you know a place is a favorite for kids? When it's a 30-minute ride to get there, and the munchkin goes insane with glee when you mention the possibility you could go there for lunch. The Purple Cow gets just such a reaction. This restaurant, styled after a 1950s soda fountain, is a favorite for parties because the kids can eat purple ice cream and get really loud, and parents can dull their frazzled nerves with spiked milk shakes. The standard American fare is passable for adults, but the kids love it. Earplugs aren't included.
On those rare occasions when a north wind blows, we know to pack up the kid and his toy airplane collection and race to DFW Airport's observation area, where he'll see jumbo jets--747s, A340s, 767s, L-1011s and DC-10s and the many smaller varieties--practically landing on top of him, and he'll watch the results of those tiny, precarious adjustments the pilot makes just a few feet from the end of the runway as he's coming in to land. (You'll also notice that it takes forever for those ancient 727s to get off the ground.) You probably didn't even know this "Founders Park" existed, with its panoramic view of the airport's east runways and piped-in control-tower chatter. But a few of us have found it, and it's perfectly suited for an outing with a plane-obsessed child (or adult). It's almost entirely fenced in, and it has picnic tables, litter-free grass and lookout binoculars (very blurry; we suggest you bring your own). Hey, and it's all free. To get there--DFW doesn't make it obvious--take the south entrance to the airport and follow the signs to the south shuttle parking area. Go past it and keep following the road until you reach an overpass. Turn left before the overpass, and you'll end up at the park. You can watch outside or in your car. It's best to come when there's a north wind, because the planes approach from the south and land right in front of you. Other times, you get a better view of the takeoff. (At press time, Founders Park had survived the new security measures at DFW and remained open.)

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.
Jane McGarry's co-host, on the other hand, we love for an entirely different reason: He's batshit. This is a man who takes everything so seriously he thinks Friends is a documentary. Listen to his baritone voice boom as he stares at the camera wide-eyed during some sort of catastrophe story: "Today in Dallas MANY PEOPLE DIED in a FANTASTIC FIRE on a bus this afternoon. Here is video of their decaying corpses, which we bring you FIRST ON 5!" Watch his jowls turn red with excitement as he bellows, "A new study suggests YOU MAY BE DYING OF CANCER." All of this would be tawdry in the most unappealing way, except that through some weird newsreader-viewer alchemy, Mike Snyder's presentation becomes tawdry in the most appealing way. Watching him is like watching Jerry Jones try to form thoughts at a news conference: It's so mesmerizingly alien you think you should be charged to view it. Someday we'd like to stick a pat of butter in his mouth--not to see if it would melt, but to see if it would turn into iron. He's that freaky. Bless his heart.

If Ed Bark at The Dallas Morning News were ever again allowed to write about local TV news, we get a strong sense that he would disagree mightily with this pick. Not because Bark is a shill for Belo--in fact, we believe it's his record of objectivity that so bothers the higher-ups at the Belo Death Star (we're looking at you, Jack Sander). After all, synergy is a team sport; can't have one Belo property objectively reviewing another, can we? No, we think Bark would object because he's a bit of a ratings hound. He enjoys--or used to, when he was allowed to cover his beat--the racehorse aspects of a ratings race...as we all do, to a point. But we think ratings reflect only someone's comfort level (they watch a station because they've always watched that station) or titillation-inspired interest (hello, Channel 5) in a news broadcast. But our fave broadcast right now is low-rated Channel 11's. The anchors--Tracy Rowlett, Karen Borta, Rene Syler--are engaging. Two of them are even really nice to look at. We're a fan of Babe Laufenberg on sports, and the news team is solid: Ginger Allen, Angela Hale, Mary Stewart, Michael Hill. There are a few better reporters at other stations, like Brett Shipp and Valeri Williams, and we're still big fans of Channel 4 workhorse Shaun Rabb. But for the whole package, we'll take Channel 11--even if, according to the ratings, you won't.
The Angelika multiplex is still too new to take this category, and we're not yet sure if it will next year, anyway. (Although it is pretty sweet. See "Best Movie Pitch Worth the Wait" in Scenes.) The Inwood is a grand old dame of a movie theater and again deserves our "Best Of" label, hands down (the Lakewood and the Regent are also treasures). Why? It has tradition, beautiful architecture and a passionate moviegoing audience. (Plus, we just dig the Gone With the Wind staircase.) Ditto for the murals. Although we're fans of the Angelika and all it has to offer, we nevertheless pray the Inwood will continue offering its indie treasures.

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