For years we've watched Lulu Ward dazzle Dallas theater audiences by disappearing so convincingly into characters that she's almost unrecognizable. Like the twin divas (one gorgeous, one homely) in Pegasus Theatre's black-and-white comedy Cross Stage Right: Die! Or the three parts she played in Cloud Nine at the Bath House. She was Medea in Orgasmo Adulto Escapes From the Zoo. A slatternly crack whore in The Abandoned Reservoir. A jealous mistress raging in the afterlife in Ground Zero's 10:10. And she took on a dozen characters, including a 6-year-old, a hippie teen and an elderly Irish maid, in Contemporary Theatre's The Dining Room. Getting good at the acting thing meant giving it up for a few years, says Ward, 45. "I left, gained some weight, got a little older, and it made a difference. I felt like I owned my own talent after that. It was healthy for me," she says. A self-described former "pageant queen," Ward went through college on a Junior Miss scholarship. In the works now: a one-woman show called Texanese Confessions, based on stories about her parents. Mom Yoko is Japanese. Ward's late father was a "redneck steel guitar player who hung out with Willie Nelson." Ward has been married for five years to musician Michael Beall and offstage is an ardent animal rescuer who tends to four dogs and six cats. Little Lulu, we love you-lu.

He's drop-dead handsome, hugely talented and bald as an egg. Halim Jabbour, 30, also is one of Dallas' most in-demand leading men, cast in a variety of tasty roles at theaters large and small over the past year. For Ground Zero Theater Company, he was a cheating groom in the premiere of Vicki Cheatwood's smoldering drama 10:10. He played a New Yorker romancing a Georgia doll in Contemporary Theatre's nostalgic The Last Night of Ballyhoo. At Richardson Theatre Centre, he was the terrifying killer in Wait Until Dark. He never let up on intensity playing two roles (with and without toupee) in Boaz Unlocked's Three Days of Rain, even before an audience of three. "And that included my sister," he recalls. Born in Lebanon, raised in Saudi Arabia (his dad was a civil engineer there), Jabbour started pre-med at Baylor before transferring to UT-Austin, where he earned a radio-TV-film degree. After a stint at Circle in the Square theater in Manhattan and a year of study in Los Angeles, he moved to Dallas in 2002 and has worked steadily onstage ever since (by day he's production coordinator for Barney the Dinosaur). Dream role: one of the brothers in Sam Shepard's True West. Catch Jabbour in a new Texas Lottery commercial or onstage as Friar Laurence in Classical Acting Company's Romeo and Juliet.

Latino Cultural Center

The LCC has had operating fits and starts during its first year, but the Ricardo Legorreta-designed building has added warmth and beauty to a cold corner between downtown and East Dallas. The $10 million structure makes the colors purple and orange seem understated, even though the center's grandeur is in stark contrast with its across-the-street neighbors, a still-underdeveloped string of parking lots and sad-state buildings.

John Pomara is a painter who thrives on the death of painting. He understands well that painting's so-called death has become its very condition, and he has managed to infuse the splendors of that death with something radically new. His work hinges on the idea and fact of mediation--the mediation of pixels and paint through the repeated modeling of computer-generated images, and the physical movement of the pull of paint. When looking at the surfaces of his perfectly flat, shiny and brightly colored paintings, one would never know that they were so complicated. But it is this subtle play of contradiction--bringing to mind the hi-lo high jinks of Lichtenstein and Warhol--that makes his paintings so successful. The "hi" (as in high art) part of his works is obvious. He makes paintings that feel good all over and, most important, are good on the eye. The "lo" part is, while more suggested, integral to his work. Pomara plays on the lowbrow with his choice of base materials--highly pixelated advertisements and photographic imagery, industrial paint and aluminum panels. Pomara revels in the death of painting because he is the master of resuscitation.

Angstrom Gallery is both hip and intellectual, punk and smart. Everything about it--the artwork, the artists, the people who run it, the location--is right on. In short, Angstrom makes Dallas a better city. David Quadrini, the gallery's impresario and catalyst, has shown a penchant for verisimilitude of late, showing objects that appear to be what they are not. Muscling forth conceptually with ideas on appearance and the commodity fetish, such work--Daniel Gordon's photographs, Kaz Oshiro's paintings and Kevin Landers' sculpture--cuts to the core of what it means to be American. It does so without falling into the ugly traps of patriotism and provincialism. Perhaps even more exciting, though, is the gallery's acquisition of new space a few storefronts over, where there was recently an unannounced and unofficial (and so cool and so punk) showing of a sound-activated video by Jeff Shore. But Angstrom is not just concerned with being hip, hep and with it. It's a space truly invested in art as a thing and an idea. The openings are relaxed and fun. And above all else, the people are nice.

The former Stephen J. Hay School on Herschel Avenue stands proud again, refurbished and alive with uniformed seventh- and eighth-grade girls and their teachers. This first single-sex school in DISD was made possible by the willingness of the district to try something new, the bond issue voted by the citizenry in 2002 and the work and generosity of philanthropists Lee and Sally Posey. The Poseys led the efforts to create the school and established a foundation to support it, bringing in as executive director Liza Lee, former Hockaday headmistress and a national leader in all-girls education. Many of the finest private schools have always been single sex, and the absence of distractions of a coed school is believed to be particularly beneficial for girls. Each year, Rangel will add another grade until it is a combination middle school and high school. That's when the foundation's real benefits will kick in. The Poseys, who have privately sent more than 90 economically disadvantaged girls to college, have pledged that every Rangel graduate who is accepted to college "will have the financial support she needs."

Neither rant nor rave about the Nasher Sculpture Center. It is great. It is great with a capital G. We love it. Our readers love it. But, for as long as it lasts, the great shiny, chrome dinosaurs, crafted from recycled car parts and installed bumper-to-bumper, you might say, on the grounds of the Dallas Museum of Natural History, are just so majestic, monumental and silly. And don't you agree that this outdoor art, created by sculptor Jack Kearney, just screams "Dallas!" and our cultural schizophrenia more than the subtle, breathtaking masterpieces at the Nasher? Kearney created life-size replicas of a 20-foot tyrannosaurus rex, as well as a triceratops and stegosaurus that are more than 32 feet long each. The collection, on loan since 1998, weighs 7 tons and took Kearney three years to finish. P.S. to whomever we're borrowing these from: Please don't take our Chromosaurs away.

Readers' Pick

Nasher Sculpture Center

2001 Flora St.

214-242-5100

Yeah, yeah--Tracy Rowlett has more gravitas, whatever that means, but we're sticking with this selection, and not just because Hawkins is one of the few local TV news guys who doesn't think the Dallas Observer's one step below toilet reading. We like Hawkins because he's a reporter and anchorman and good at both gigs; he's even something of a poet, as acknowledged in our Full Frontal section a few months back when Hawkins referred to metered parking spaces as "asphalt rent," the first and last time we can recall a local talking TV head even attempting something close to...whatyacallit...writing. He's never too smug or overly sincere, makes mindless between-anchor chitchat seem kinda witty and doesn't condescend to the audience when breaking news good, bad or pointless. If he can stick it out at Channel 8, where the good folks are abandoning ship like it's the Titanic without even a band, Hawkins has the goods to be a major player for a good long while. He might even get him some gravitas, which Scott Samms probably thinks is a dirty word.

Readers' Pick

Gloria Campos

WFAA-Channel 8

Perhaps it's not fair to call Midlake's Bamnan and Slivercork the best local album of the year. Sure, it's great, but the word "local" might be considered a stretch. First off, the album hasn't yet seen an official launch in the United States, though that hasn't stopped local record shops from importing the album from Britain's Bella Union label in droves. To further complicate things, Midlake hardly sounds like it comes from America, much less Denton--there's really no other group making music like this in the region, as jazzy drumbeats, swirling keyboards and undernourished guitars unite in Pink Flaming Grandaddy Air Floyd Lips fashion. And, honestly, how many Dallas bands have mastered their albums at Abbey Road Studios? Therefore, we understand if a few people scoff at the "local" tag given to Bamnan, but in the end, we're damn proud to claim any local ties to an album this impressive.

Readers' Pick

[DARYL] Ohio

Containing a wealth of do-it-yourself legal information, the Dallas County Law Library is free for all Dallas County residents. Librarian David Wilkinson estimates that of the 250 people who use the library each day, only about half are attorneys. What are all of these non-lawyers doing in a law library? Taking care of routine legal matters without the expense of hiring a lawyer, says librarian Gerald Bynum. Such cases could range from name changes to uncontested divorces and simple wills. Prominent on the library information sheets listing available services is this disclaimer: "It is unlawful for library employees to interpret legal materials or to advise people how the law might apply to their situation." Another available giveaway, sponsored by the Dallas Bar Association, lists 28 legal clinics and counseling services that can provide this kind of information at no or low cost.

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