It happens at almost every play for which Randel Wright designs the set. The lights come up onstage, the audience gets its first look at his spectacular handiwork and everyone applauds. For A Girl's Guide to Chaos at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, Wright filled the acting space with a ceiling-high tribute to the line drawings of the late pop artist Keith Haring, including Haring's signature crawling babies and barking dogs. For Lone Star/Laundry and Bourbon, also at CTD, Wright created an authentically shabby back porch and yard (complete with clothesline), then magically transformed it during intermission into a run-down West Texas honky-tonk lit by a gigantic rising full moon. The effect brought a satisfied "aaaaah" from the crowd. He's the only set designer successful at making the cave-like Bath House Cultural Center into an elegant acting space. For WingSpan's production of Edward Albee's Marriage Play, Wright incorporated the odd architectural elements of that venue into his rendering of a sprawling penthouse apartment. This designer definitely has a fine career building.

Uptown Players

Now in its third season of plays and musicals at the Trinity River Arts Center, the Uptown Players upped the ante this year with more ambitious work and higher-quality productions. This company, founded by co-producers Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch, performs gay-themed shows for a dedicated audience composed mostly of young gay theatergoers (everyone's welcome, of course). To their small stage they attract the best local talent--Denise Lee, Coy Covington, Nye Cooper, Regan Adair, Donald Fowler, BJ Cleveland--to casts of musicals such as Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Life and the cross-dressing comedies of Charles Busch (this year's Red Scare on Sunset was a winner). At least once a season they stage a sprawling, large-cast drama. The recent production of Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion!, featuring more nudity than Dallas stages have seen in many a moon, played to sell-out crowds. Finishing out the current season is The Wild Party (through October 24). Next year's slate includes A Man of No Importance, Mambo Italiano, Southern Baptist Sissies and The Who's Tommy. Snaps all around!

Some people like to visit Mark Cuban's blog for its train-wreck aspects. You know, how he'll promote his show The Benefactor and say how great it is just before it airs to an indifferent public. We like it, weirdly enough, for all the other posts. Like the one about his take on politics and its effects on the business environment. (He took a shot at Senator Orrin Hatch and never mentioned that he once contributed money to Hatch's campaign, but it didn't affect his point, so whatever.) Or the one about how much he loves his new Sidekick II gadget. (Want one!) And especially the one about the future of HDTV, DVDs and the hard drive. It's in posts like these that Cuban shows he deserves at least a bit of the "business genius" label that is constantly attached to him. True, we long for the post where Cuban shows a smidge of humility, but in the meantime we'll settle for the insight and geekdom he offers.

Readers' Pick

www.texasgigs.com

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

Best Of Dallas®

Best Of