The Old Monk
This selection is perhaps unduly influenced by the unfortunate fact that we're reporters. Attorneys might prefer Ghost Bar; doctors drown their sorrows at Primo's. Laborers at insurance firms likely choose to forget about life for a while at any chain restaurant offering some variation of the Bloomin' Onion. We prefer the Old Monk, which is an affable and engaging setting for anyone who likes to talk to old friends and meet new people. The haphazard way the Old Monk is laid out allows for friends to drink together and strangers to stumble onto each other, which basically is a reporter's MO: Meet new sources, maintain old ones. An impressive selection of import beers on tap, a spacious outdoor patio and a central location contribute to the Old Monk's allure.
Kitchen Dog Theater
Now in its 16th season presenting plays they hope will "provoke, challenge and amaze" (according to their mission statement), Kitchen Dog Theater, founded by SMU theater grads, is one of the few local theaters to host a full company of artists. Some 29 actors, directors, designers and playwrights comprise KDT's professional company, making for a diverse and exciting artistic family. Among them: actors Ian Leson, Rhonda Boutte, Shelley Tharp-Payton, Christina Vela and John Flores; playwrights Lee Trull and Vicki Caroline Cheatwood; designers Christina Dickson, Russell K. Dyer and Emily Young; and co-artistic directors Tina Parker and Christopher Carlos. Opening the current season with Neil LaBute's controversial Fat Pig (through October 21), Kitchen Dog just keeps turning up the heat.
Ginger Man
The Ginger Man offers 77,343 different beers on draft. At least that's what it looks like when you're saddled up at the bar staring at the glorious line of taps offering visions of a beer-soaked paradise. Offering every type of beer imaginable, including those flavored with apricots and coffee, the Ginger Man is to discerning drinkers what the Apple Store is to people with a Mac fetish. Located on Boll Street on the fringes of Uptown Dallas, the Ginger Man has its share of 30-something frat boys who refer to beer as brewskies and inexplicably appreciate the bar's frumpy taste in live music, but after a drink or seven even Kappa Alphas don't seem so bad.
Actors trust Cheryl Denson, a longtime Dallas theater actor and now a much in-demand director. She's not a crack-the-whip type, doesn't bury herself in trivial research, never screams at the slackers. She just gets it done, making the process a lot of fun. An expert with comedies but no slouch with musicals and dramas, Denson, a Baylor grad with an MFA from Trinity University, deflects praise that comes her way. "It's not about just me. I watched directors work when I acted all those years and watched them make it about their work only. I hated that as an actor," she says. Theater, she says, ought to feel embracing and it ought to feel safe. "We're all exposing the rawest part of ourselves to do that. You can't have fearful actors." Booked a year in advance with directing jobs, Denson next takes the reins of Last Night of Ballyhoo at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, then Master Class at Lyric Stage. Next time you see a really good show, check for Denson's name in the program. Good directors such as her rarely get the applause they deserve.
Adair's Saloon
There are joints that bill bigger acts (Billy Bob's), and there are joints where ladies ride mechanical bulls (Gilley's), but nothing says honky-tonk like Adair's Saloon in Deep Ellum. It's where you go if you want to hear no-frills, stripped-to-the-bone country. It's a rough and tumblin' kind of place, a shitty little dive with a small stage, small tables and plenty of beer. And it's one of the last places in town where for a couple bucks you can hear real country, as opposed to that Kenny Chesney sun-going-down Caribbean bullshit.
In Danny and the Deep Blue Sea at the Bath House, she was Roberta, desperately needy and starved for a sexual connection with somebody, anybody. In A Moon for the Misbegotten at Circle Theatre, she was Josie, an Irish-American pig farmer's wife, desperately needy and starved forwell, you see the pattern. Playing beautiful but quirky women with a certain seething sexuality, Heather Henry, 33, has made an unforgettable impression on theatergoers in a series of tough roles over the past year. A SUNY-Purchase grad (like Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci), Henry arrived in Dallas after not acting for six years. Her comeback role was a doozy, playing a boozy slattern in Killer Joe at the MAC. "I think I was cast because I was willing to do it naked. I had to come onstage in a white T-shirt and my frickin' double-D boobs," Henry recalls. She's since worked at WaterTower and Classical Acting Company, where she recently co-starred as the woman who seduces Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. She's also lost 100 pounds she'd gained during the lay-off from showbiz. "Now directors don't know what to do with me!" she says. Giving her more good roles would be a start.
If you bought a ticket to any Dallas theater this past year, you probably saw Ian Leson onstage. The guy worked everywhere, getting roles he admits put him on an enviable hot streak. First, Bug, a sell-out at Kitchen Dog with Leson playing a meth-crazed guy holed up stark naked in a motel room. Then Living Out at WaterTower, as a Yuppie liberal who almost jumps in the sack with the nanny. Then Visiting Mr. Green at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, a two-hander starring Leson as a gay New Yorker doing court-ordered visits to a grouchy old widower (the grand Jerry Russell). Throw in appearances at the Out of the Loop Fest, plus staged readings here and there, and Leson, who owns a Preston Center Pilates studio with wife Jennifer, barely had a night off. The SMU theater grad is a director's fave and recently was named a company member at Kitchen Dog, where he's playing the male lead in Neil LaBute's Fat Pig through October 21. Now, says Leson, "I have this urge to do a musical. Because it would terrify me."
Twenty years ago, old-timers will tell you, Frisco was dirt roads and corn fields. Now it's rapidly becoming like the rest of Dallas. There remains one patch of dirt amidst all this urban sprawl where one can pet a donkey, ride a horse or simply smell the aroma of fresh manure. It's the Frisco Horse Park. It's right off Highway 121, across the street from 7-Eleven, down a rutted dirt road, through a field of dying dandelions, beyond a chipped white fence. The clapboard office, rumor has it, was once a whorehouse. Now it's where you pay $35 to ride a horse for an hour. Better yet, pay $5 to put your kiddo on a pony for 10 minutes. But you better hurry, because before you know it, it will all be gone.
Cedar Hill State Park
If you like the outdoors, you should probably move to a place where they don't allow every river to get all sullied up with beer cans and Funyons bags. But if you can't move, there are a number of woodsy options that are surprisingly close. Perhaps the best place to go camping is Cedar Hill State Park. This "urban nature preserve" includes 355 campsites, most of them fairly wooded. Each site has water, electricity, a fire ring, a lantern pole and a picnic table, and all are within walking distance of restrooms with hot showers. If you're not a sissy, there are 30 more campsites with no amenities whatsoever. Besides camping, there are more than 15 miles of mountain biking trails, a preserved 19th-century farm and the Joe Pool Reservoir, where you can swim, ride jet skis or just chill out on a house boat.
Onstage he burns with the sexy intensity of a young Marlon Brando (head shaved Colonel Kurtz-style), the subtle passion of Ed Harris and sometimes the borderline serial killer rage of Kevin Spacey at his scariest. Standing still, Clay Yocum, 29, is the most interesting actor on any stage and the best young thesp to come this way in years. In his local debut in WingSpan's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, he gave a performance so raw and sexual it made the audience feel like voyeurs. Next he played the racist rube with a killer fastball in WaterTower's hit run of Take Me Out. Recently he won the plum role of Biff Loman in Classical Acting's Death of a Salesman. In real life, the University of Oklahoma grad is a gentle sort. He started acting as a child, moving with his mom to L.A. for a year when he was 11 to make casting rounds. Now he works with troubled students at a Flower Mound middle school by day and thrills audiences at night. "I'm humbled and overwhelmed with the opportunities I've had in the last year," says Yocum. Sounds like a great start to an acceptance speech.

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