Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Although he would hate to be referred to as the conscience of southern Dallas, Michael Davis has claimed the holy ground between the unethical and hapless political leadership of the southern sector and their bigoted and hypocritical detractors. A smart blogger whose reporting on city events is often a step or two ahead of the lumbering Dallas Morning News, Davis is more than just a critic. He's been active campaigning against southern Dallas' tired political guard, arguing in favor of new, reform-minded leadership. He's also helped wage a successful fight to close down a notorious hot sheet motel in Fair Park. His blog, Dallasprogress.blogspot.com, gives readers a snapshot into his progressive world view. He loathes the smarmy leadership of city council member Leo Chaney while being equally dismissive of the Dallas Police Department's recent assertion that a hip-hop song led to a shooting death. Davis pays attention to the minutiae of city affairs, while turning his sharp gaze north of the Trinity.
Not so long ago, down the highway apiece in the town of LaGrange, there was a place called the Chicken Ranch that had nothing to do with laying eggs but a whole lot to do with getting laid. For decades it operated as an illegal bordello where bad-boy politicians could get done to them what they were doing to constituents, where college football players could pay to score with professional sure things.
The Chicken Ranch offered a friendly spot for a horizontal hoedown with some down-home hos. Local law enforcement let it be. Then along came a screaming, toupee-wearing, crusading-for-morality Houston TV reporter named Marvin Zindler, whose exposs on the brothel got the Bible brigade to force the authorities to shut it down.
The story cracked the headlines for a while in the 1970s and might have faded into the annals of Lone Star State history were it not for Texas writers Larry L. King and Peter Masterson who, along with composer Carol Hall, scrambled the facts of the Chicken Ranch scandal into a sexy theatrical fry-up called The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
Choreographed by Texan Tommy Tune, the show opened on Broadway in 1978 and played more than 1,500 performances. The campy but less successful movie starring Dolly Parton as Miss Mona (the madam), Burt Reynolds as the sheriff and Dom DeLuise as the Zindler character, Melvin P. Thorpe, came and went in 1982.
Its been a good while since any Dallas theater mounted (tee-hee) a full-sized production of the musical, but its a nice fit at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, where its onstage through October 29. CTD founder and Whorehouse cast member Sue Loncar plays one of nine Chicken Ranch chickies and says she remembers watching the real story unfold on TV when she was growing up in Houston. And did this Highland Park mother of five have any reservations about playing a prostie? My kids just think its funny. Anyway, how cool is it to be 40-something and get to be in this show! I consider it a privilege and an opportunity to try to lose some weight!
Husband Brian Loncar, the Strong Arm lawyer on those TV commercials, is making his theatrical debut as The Governor, singing Dance a Little Sidestep and spouting political doubletalk: As I was saying just this morning at the weekly prayer breakfast, it behooves the Jews and the Ay-rabs to settle their differences in a Christian manner. Loncar says hes bringing to the role what he tries to bring to the TV adsMy motto is maximum cheese.
Whorehouse was risqu Broadway fare in the 70s, but by todays Pussycat Dolled-up, G-String Diva-fied standards, its pretty tame stuff. Its definitely not The Life, says Sue Loncar, referring to the much edgier musical about streetwalkers. This show puts a sugar coating on prostitution. Miss Monas is less like a brothelmore sorority house.
Whorehouse may be a bit of a museum piece but still has some things to say about the society we live in and the way the media blow things out of proportion, especially things of a sexual nature, says director James Paul Lemons. But its not message-heavy. Think lingerie and big hair, Lemons says. Were going over-the-top Texas style, walking the line between camp and authenticity.
For the actress playing Linda Lou, one of the scantily clad, by-the-hour hoochies who works for Miss Mona (played by Jenny Thurman), its the latest in a series of R-rated roles on Dallas stages. Cara Statham Serber gave audiences the T and the A as the cheerleader/prostitute in Kitchen Dog Theaters production of Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical and stripped down to her bra and half-slip as Janet in CTDs Rocky Horror Show.
Someday no one will want to see me in lingerie, so I have to capitalize on it, says Serber, who recently co-starred in WaterTower Theatres Into the Woods and describes her offstage persona as Frisco hausfrau. I spent all of my 20s doing Maria in The Sound of Music and Marian the librarian in The Music Man. I have to say, playing a whore is more silly fun than being Laurie in Oklahoma!
Actor Joey Oglesby pawed Serber as a football player in Debbie and gets to do it again as one of the dancing Aggies visiting the Best Little Whorehouse. When director Lemons told Oglesby hed be wearing a jockstrap, and little else, for one of the numbers, the actor headed for the gym. I have my 10-year high school reunion coming up, too, so I guess thats a good thing, he says. Ive never been opposed to taking off my clothes for laughs.
A Baylor grad whos also part of the Second Thought Theatre company, Oglesby says his Southern Baptist parents are pretty open-minded but refused to see Debbie Does Dallas, which was several notches raunchier than Whorehouse.
Maybe best not to tell them, or Zindler, whos still on the air at Houstons ABC station, that CTD occupies a two-story building off Lower Greenville Avenue that formerly served as a house of worship.
Says Sue Loncar, Yep, weve put the hos in church. Were probably all going to hell for that. Elaine Liner
There is a place in Dallas called Redmansor The Redmans or Redmans Lodge or a host of other monikersthat is legendary amongst poker players. It is not terribly hard to find, should you know its general location, which we would not presume to give away here lest Dallas police read this. No, once a years quite enough for poker players, about 80 of whom were arrested or cited in June when the cast of A&Es reality show Dallas SWAT wham-bammed down the door at Aces on Irving Boulevard. They showed up well prepared that night, with full diagrams of the jointdown to the number of tables and the seat positions at each, to better keep track of the players popped for playing Texas Hold Em. The raid even received mention from the Cato Institutes Web site, which referred to the bust and others like it across the country as examples of frightening militarism. All that force used on people playing cards. Bret Maverick would not have approved.
So we will leave Redmans alone, save to say its hallowed ground for would-be rounders and wanna-be pros whove heard tales of T.J. Cloutier, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim Preston, David Williams and other players shoving big stacks across the famous felt. Redmans has been around forever and feels like itsmells like it, actually, its aroma that of a locker room used as an ashtray. Its as much an essential and vital piece of Dallas history as any of the citys few remaining landmarks, yet it cant be celebrated out in the open because what happens in therepeople playing cards for money, just like they do on TV seemingly 24 hours a dayremains illegal in the state.
As Kinky Friedman puts it, We invented Texas Hold Em, and we cant play it, which is true: In Texas, any game in which the house takes a cut of a winning pota rakeis considered to be breaking the law, which is why places such as Redmans exist beneath ground, its low rumble audible only to those tuned in to the frequency of the clinking of chips being stacked between flops and folds. Aces got popped because it was too out in the open, advertising its doings on the Internet. Says a friend who once sat at a table there, It was asking for it.
Yet not so long ago, many of Dallas underground poker rooms played the same loose-aggressive game. By some counts, there were about 200 card rooms in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with almost a quarter of those in the 214 or 972, and many of them posted their schedules on the Web, begging you to come buy into their low-stakes games. Now comes word that but a fraction of a fraction of them remainthree or four, says Dan Michalski, whose Pokerati blog has for several years detailed the rise and fall of poker rooms in the area. (Michalski also now runs PokerBlog.com, and for a long time he ran the Sunday-afternoon free-roll tournaments at The Lodge.)
Which means Dallas has lost some of its best roomsplaces such as the Murfield, the Platinum Room and Stagecoach, the latter of which was in northwest Dallas and boasted the big-screen sheen of any decent casino, served up a decent meal, allowed no booze, sent smokers to a private room and boasted stellar players keeping polite company (except for the son of a bitch who called my $10 raise holding nothing more than 9-2 off-suit and hit two pair on the flop). Thats not to say Dallas still doesnt have a scene; far from it. In fact, in his new book Hunting Fish: A Cross-Country Search for Americas Worst Poker Players, Jay Greenspan writes, Dallas is said to have the best underground poker scene in the country, and he visited a few spots that did little to disabuse him of that notion.
But Michalski, who was Greenspans tour guide of Dallas poker joints and receives copious mentions in the book, says theyve been replaced by underground games that are well above-groundwhich is to say, in apartment complexes and office buildings and other far-outta-the-way places that hold only two or three tables and fewer players than the old-fashioned card rooms populated by rounders up to their asses in cards and other rounders.
The scene is clearly back, Michalski says. The games still exist, theyve just gone more underground, and theyve gone small. You have a lot of three-table rooms where someones rented out a loft. I just got an e-mail today that says the Platinum Room is back. It doesnt say where the location is, and thats because theres also a tougher screening process. Indeed, only a year ago all you needed was to know a places location to buy into a game; today, youre invited by e-mail, given a contact number and usually only if you know somebody connected to the game.
Theyre calling them home games now, Michalski says. The truth is, theyre still taking rakes and making money. But theyre treating them like home games, as opposed to these people who were actively promoting and throwing big tournaments. Trust me, the scene is fine and dandy.
So, somebody deal me in, already. Robert Wilonsky
The final resting place of notorious outlaw Clyde Barrow and his brother Buck is located just west of downtown on Fort Worth Avenue, mere minutes away from the glittering, soulless faades of the New Dallas (cough, cough, W Hotel, cough, cough). Sure, Old Clyde wasn't the best behaved of fellows, but living in this town you have to admit that our outlaws--Barrow, Oswald, Ruby and the like--are some of the most fascinating characters Dallas ever produced, morals or not. After Clyde was killed in Louisiana (alongside his beloved Bonnie Parker) in a ruthless law enforcement ambush, his body attracted hundreds of curious Dallasites, both before (his remains were displayed in the Belo Mansion, which at the time housed the Sparkman Funeral Home) and after burial. Access to the cemetery is extremely limited, and the neighborhood is notoriously sketchy (though the Belmont Hotel might change that), so we wouldn't suggest visiting old Clyde without permission. Just knowing he's there is good enough for us.
Kids these days. Always listening to that goldurned rap music. Drinking their mojitos and wearing them dee-signer jeans. Getting "crunk." Back in our day, there weren't no "crunk." There was two-steppin' and Wranglers and ice-cold Lone Star. That's why we like Cowboys Red River. You could call an over-decorated, under-air-conditioned room filled with 20-somethings rubbing together butt-to-crotch a dance club. But you'd be wrong, pardner. You'd do better to call a place where people go to dance a dance club. Cowboys Dance Hall is just such a place. There's just nothing like a giant warehouse with an expansive, round dance floor and a live honky-tonk band to get our boot heels a-tappin'. We'll go round and round with the "Cotton-Eyed Joe" or wow our lady friend with a mean schottische. Then, we'll do her right and buy her a beer and a shot o' whiskey from the bar. After that she'll be ready for a go on Cowboys' mechanical bull. And then, if we're lucky, a ride of a different kind. You know how the saying goes, right? Save a horse...
Though we generally prefer eBay or craigslist when it comes to purchasing our axes, we do venture to Guitar Center on Central from time to time for the little things--strings, tuners, cables, etc. Without fail we always see: A) at least one complete emo band loitering in the parking lot, B) at least one past or present member of [DARYL] or the Deathray Davies, and C) some dude playing a slightly off-kilter rendition of a riff from either a Stevie Ray Vaughan or a Red Hot Chili Peppers song--sometimes we can't even tell which one; we only know that it's most likely one of the two.
Someone in Austin is gonna pay for this. When the all-female roller derby leagues of Central Texas reared their heads during our college days, we thought it was novel enough--after all, we almost went to a match once to catch And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. Thankfully, we abstained, so we can't count ourselves responsible for the derby's spread to DFW and beyond. Judging by the growing ranks of local leagues such as Assassination City Derby and the Dallas Derby Devils--and all their blood make-up, lame tattoos and piercings--the metroplex has more than its fair share of strained father-daughter relationships. Now that the A&E series Rollergirls has been canceled, we can all hope that this obnoxious trend will be similarly short-lived. All right, we get it already. You chicks are tough. Can we have the Double Wide back now?
When Mayor Laura Miller announced that she wouldn't seek re-election, speculation about who might succeed her spread like a West Texas grassfire, prompting the men of KTCK's The Hardline to ask: Why not Mike Rhyner? When the beloved radio host was asked that afternoon what platform he might run on, the Old Gray Wolf responded with a stroke of political genius, saying if he were elected, he'd put Big Tex on top of the Reunion Tower. He's got our fake vote. Even if he only kept his promise for a day, you have to admit it would be a sight to see. Now if only we could get Santiago Calatrava to work the Texas Star into one of those friggin' bridge designs.
For more than a quarter-century The Round-Up Saloon has been one of Dallas' premier purveyors of country and western music, dancing and good times for good folks. Although classified as a gay bar, this popular watering hole welcomes those of all genders and persuasions, and any given night will give testimony that all types are present and all feel welcome. The Round-Up features all genres of country music, including old country, new/old remakes, young country and even crossover country. In short, the range of music offers styles, speeds and tastes to satisfy all. Nearly as rangy as the Ponderosa, this large club features six different bars and areas certain to provide the desired atmosphere to comfortably lip a long-neck (read that however you like). New shows and special events are scheduled frequently to ensure things keep hopping and hooting. Regular beer busts (50 cent draft!), karaoke, free dance lessons and Friday and Saturday Howdy Hour are popular mainstays here.
In only two years, the Summer Strut Home Tour, which takes place in early June, has leapt to the top of the list in this otherwise moribund category of entertainment. After all, how long can you really stay interested in Swiss Avenue? Sponsored by the AIDS Resource Center, the Summer Strut so far has presented tours in the Turtle Creek area and Greenway Parks, west of the Dallas North Tollway at Mockingbird Lane. It's not cheap--$50 a head and $90 per couple--but there are hors d'oeuvres at the houses and often live music. Old homes are mixed with new in a blend that is more stylish than what one sees on typical neighborhood tours.
Every night we dine at this Oak Cliff institution we're treated to the best atmosphere of any Mexican joint in Dallas, complete with a roster of the city's finest mariachis. The fervent strumming of guitars, voices raised in perfect harmony, the sound of twin trumpets ringing off the tile--it's the next best thing to San Antonio, only you don't have to drive five hours and fight the River Walk crowds. On our last visit we even caught a touring act, an amplified band complete with twin saxophones, keyboard bass and a guy who had the sole responsibility of playing the hi-hat on the offbeat--with his hand.
What's going on with investigative TV reporting lately? For a while KTVT-Channel 11 had pulled ahead of WFAA's News 8 with a consistent string of hard-hitting, well-reported stories on local government and politics. What happened on 11? Recently their biggies were "New cameras can change the way you look," "Katie Couric's day in Texas" and, our favorite mind-boggling expos, "Schools influencing value of homes." Channel 8, meanwhile, is back in the winner's circle again with hard-hitting stories by Brett Shipp and Byron Harris on airline safety, wacked-out incompetence in the Dallas schools' administration, complaints of meshugga cops in Deep Ellum and others. All the major newscasts have competent newsreaders. It's the individual reporters and behind-the-scenes producers who make the difference. Right now, those are the people who have made News 8 the one to watch at 6 and 10.