Some playwrights want to be the next Chekhov or Albee. Matt Lyle, 29, just wants to be the guy who writes the plays that make you laugh out loud. He's been doing that for the past few years in his role as resident playwright and founding artistic director of tiny Bootstraps Comedy Theater. With actress-wife Kim as his muse, Lyle experiments with styles and subjects in his writing. Sunny & Eddie Sitting in a Tree, which premiered at the Festival of Independent Theatres in 2006, was a Woody Allen-style farce about neurotics who meet in their therapist's office. Then, inspired by the early films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, he pounded out The Boxer, an homage to the precisely choreographed physical comedy bits of the great silents. An audience fave at this year's FIT, the dialogue-free play starred Kim as a Chaplinesque heroine in baggy pants. In 40 minutes of wordless storytelling, The Boxer turned snickers into guffaws into knee-pounding belly laughs and left audiences ga-ga with admiration for Lyle's talent as a writer of a comedy that felt both classic and fresh. A day job at Dallas Children's Theater keeps Lyle's rent paid. And maybe it also keeps the kid in him from growing up and getting serious too soon.
When Dallas theaters schedule coinciding opening nights, as they frequently do, Uptown Players' wily producers know critics and in-the-know theatergoers will be in their seats at the KD Studio Theatre not just for the newest Uptown play but for the cuisine after the curtain calls. Free for opening nighters, Uptown's lavish buffet of hot hors d'oeuvres and champagne punch is a big part of the fun at this gay-themed theater company. Silver Tray Catering (www.silvertraycatering.com) provides the meatballs, tiny beef Wellingtons, sushi bites and other finger foods. Delicious Cakes (www.deliciouscakes.com) comes up with a wondrous, buttercream-frosted pastry themed to every new show. Ask any Uptown opening nighter why they're not at Contemporary for that house's premiere performance instead and the answer always comes up "Cake!" When the actors make their appearances at the Uptown party, their audience is already well-fed and half-sloshed. We'd applaud Uptown's good taste in goodies, but our hands are full of chicken kebabs and mini-quiches.
Lee Harvey's
Back when Lee Harvey's first opened, we loved the yard but couldn't stand the bathroom situation. With only a one-holer for both sexes, our beer-laden bladders just couldn't take it—that is until someone hipped us to the bar's side trough, where men are men and the lines are nonexistent. The trough also affords chances for some primo pee-talk, most of it consisting of things like "Man, this bar is awesome," "Man, ain't Texas great?" and "Man, I'm so glad I'm not a chick."
The Big Thicket Recreation Building, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, is a classic example of "WPA Rustic" architecture, made of natural materials and designed to meld handsomely into a natural setting. It was in pretty tough shape a few years ago when Home Depot and the all-volunteer Friends of the Lake took on the task of restoring it. They replaced a wrap-around porch and persuaded the grandson of the original artisan to come back and replace the light fixtures, among other tasks. This year the building won an award from Preservation Texas. You can rent it for about 60 bucks an hour by calling the number above. Holds about 50 people. Great place for a party.
Iron Cactus
This downtown rooftop is a must for anyone who enjoys fresh air and quality tequila. As the business day winds down in the summertime, the bar fills and the Herradura starts to flow in time with the large fountain near the stairwell. The place has more than 80 types of Mexican tequila. To sample it, order the tequila flight, three half-ounce glasses of silver, reposado and anejo. The names are as rich as the tastes: Cabo Wabo, El Conquistador, Corazon, Don Julio. And if you're not up for the straight shots, there's a wide selection of margaritas. They've got all the usual fruity varieties, but our favorite is the Cactus Juice, with Midori melon liqueur and blue curacao. Just watch your step on the way down the stairs at the end of the evening.
Ridgewood Splash Park is one of the few public places in Dallas (besides your garden hose) to cool off for free. True, you can't practice your backstroke, but you also don't have to worry about your kids wandering off and drowning, or teenagers doing annoying cannonballs onto your head. Though the park is obviously geared toward kiddos, we saw several adults enjoying the cooling ground and arch sprays while their tots frolicked nearby. An adjacent playground and covered pavilion with picnic tables offer shade and entertainment for kids who don't want to get wet. But honestly, what kid doesn't want to get wet? Stake out your party table early (the park opens at 10 a.m. May through September) as the park can get crowded in the hot midday hours.
Cedar Hill State Park
You can shut out the hum of Interstate 20 in the distance and pretend you're ensconced in an urban prairie wilderness at Cedar Hill State Park, situated on Joe Pool Lake. Some parts of the 1,800-acre park, such as historic Penn Farm, have swaths of prairie grass like the area's earliest settlers would have found. The biggest attraction here, though, is the more than 350 wooded campsites, perfect for a quick retreat from city life. The state park also features mountain bike and hiking trails, swimming in Joe Pool Lake and fishing, which is free with state park admission. (Not that we've ever caught anything.) Oh, and the occasional tarantula or scorpion.
Globe Life Park
So much for those who root, root, root for the home team. There's a reason why Yankee fans call Arlington the West Bronx. Not only do the New York Yankees almost always win here, they do so in front of adoring fans dressed in Yankee pinstripes. Typically, when the Yankees play the Rangers, there are about twice as many fans of the away team as there are of the home team, and that ratio only increases every time a Rangers pitcher gives up another home run. It can be a little unsettling actually, watching and hearing Derek Jeter et al. garner lusty cheers each time they drive another runner home, but then again you can't blame the Rangers fans for staying quiet. They haven't exactly had a lot to cheer for recently. But hey, at least they don't have to drive to the Bronx to catch their team.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox's quote began, "Laugh, and the world laughs with you." At Ad-Libs, it would be more appropriate to say, "Laugh, and it's probably because you suggested a topic, the cast took it and ran and turned out something sidesplitting that no one was expecting." Such is the magic of improvisational comedy. So often, we flip channels and hit Whose Line Is It Anyway? (British and American versions) and end up glad Dallas has its own live version just downtown...and since 1986. The cast includes voice actors of kick-ass cartoons and a guy who actually worked with Charles Nelson Reilly (God rest his brilliant soul). The shows are high-energy and pretty painful considering the ab workout from laughing so hard for an hour and a half. Director Phil Larsson says more than 750,000 audience members have provided funny fodder and laughed at the cast of Ad-Libs. If we didn't tell you it's worthy entertainment, that number should. Anybody got a line?
Grand Lux Cafe
As soon as you walk through the enormous double doors, you may as well be at the Venetian in Vegas. In fact, that's where the flagship location is. The restaurant is designed to evoke the opulent Old World cafes of France and Italy, which fits well with the Galleria, which was modeled after a center in Milan. Yet this is a quintessentially American restaurant, just as Vegas is a quintessentially American creation. The portions are vast, as is the dining room, with high, sweeping ceilings, elaborate fabrics and mosaics in the style of a Venetian carnival. Surrounded by marble and well-dressed folks toting shopping bags, it's easy to pretend you're on the strip, making your way from the Venetian to the Bellagio.

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