Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts
Sara Kerens
For almost 35 years Kathy Burks has designed and produced puppet shows that make high art of non-human figures brought to life with strings, rods and hands. From a collection of puppets and marionettes that goes back to the early 1900s, Burks and her expert puppeteers make the characters so real that children in the audience, given the chance for post-show Q&A, will often address the puppets directly, completely ignoring the black-clad actors holding them. Magical shows such as Frog Prince and Velveteen Rabbit, presented at Dallas Children's Theater, home to Burks and her creations for the past decade, appeal to the kid in all of us. This company makes "wooden acting" a good thing.
Museum of the American Railroad
History buffs, especially the little ones, would be remiss if they never visited this gem in Fair Park. The Museum of the American Railroad (formerly the Age of Steam Railway Museum) boasts more than 30 pieces of actual railroad equipment. Like, real reach-out-and-touch-'em old-school locomotives. Pullman sleeper cars, dining cars and a complete passenger train from pre-World War II days are just some of the pieces that constitute the impressive collection. And for those less "all aboard," the memorabilia (signs, china and more) in the depot represents stunning history. A visit to the MAR transports you back to the days when people dressed to travel and Cary Grant narrowly escaped the bad guys in a too-short steward's uniform in North by Northwest.
Bootstraps Comedy Theater @ Bath House Cultural Center
Comedy is their middle name. This 3-year-old theater company, founded by drama grads from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, has built a fine following as the go-to group for a great big laugh. In their mission statement, founders Matt and Kim Lyle vow to use comedy to "break down the walls that exist between people shackled by societal norms." And if that means tripping and falling through a wall onstage, they're happy to do it. Scoring hits at the past two Festivals of Independent Theatres with Matt's plays Sunny & Eddie Sitting in a Tree and The Boxer (being revived for another run at the studio space at Dallas Children's Theater in mid-November), the Bootstrappers are pulling themselves up to stand as Dallas' funniest, most inventive young theater troupe. These Lumberjacks (that's the SFASU mascot) are OK.
When Bobcat transitioned a few months ago from his longtime spot behind the board at Club Dada to the one just down the street at Darkside, he left a trail of legend and, even more important, genius ability behind him. This is a man who reportedly romanced Julie Napol of Concrete Blonde, a man who constantly is courted by touring bands to drop what he's doing and come work for/with them, a man who can make your out-of-tune, two-chord experimental reggae punk jam band sound like the Rolling Fuckin' Stones. Or, you know, Mozart, since he also helmed the knobs at Bass Performance Hall. We actually don't know what makes Bobcat so good. It's one of those things that's mystifying, genius, like why you could play the same three notes the same way Jimi Hendrix played them and never sound like him at all. All we know is Bobcat makes the fair and middling sound like Fair to Midland, and he makes the great sound like a band fronted by God.
Mayoral candidate Sam Coats first threw out this suggestion in the spring as a way to jumpstart Dallas' kinda sorta revitalizing downtown, and he unwittingly started a lot of chatter on local sports talk shows. While there are all sorts of pragmatic concerns involved, including the unlikely approval of Major League Baseball, Coats' idea is at least more feasible than luring the Summer Olympics to Dallas. So if we had enough optimism to consider the latter proposal, we should at least take a look at making a push for a National League team in the Big D. Unlike Jerry Jones' football stadium, which will host only a handful of events a year, a baseball park would draw tens of thousands of people to downtown at least 81 times a year, which is the number of times a team plays at home. Besides, while the Ballpark at Arlington is a beautiful place to catch a game, there's absolutely nothing to do afterward other than visit the line of chain restaurants that litter Interstate 30. But a park in downtown Dallas wouldn't be just a one-stop shop. We imagine MLB Commissioner Bud Selig would balk at putting two baseball teams in North Texas, unless we can convince him that the Rangers don't count. It shouldn't be that hard.
Six years ago, Paul Varghese made his stand-up debut at a comedy writing class showcase at the Addison Improv. This July, Varghese worked a much bigger room: national television. Featured on Comedy Central's Live at Gotham, Varghese brought his wonky-smart comedy to the masses. His thirst for stage time keeps him going up at every open mike and bar show in town, so you don't have to have cable or cash for a two-drink minimum to see him. Varghese's attention to detail (he mentions his Charles in Charge T-shirt as an aside) keeps his material fresh, along with his self-deprecating nature and smooth, radio-announcer voice. Varghese's quiet, deadpanned jokes can earn laughs from the most jaded of audiences. You won't see him coming, but once he's captured you in his humorous lair, you'll want to see him come back for more.
It's been nearly 28 years since the 1979 incident that put the State Fair's Swiss Sky Ride out of action, killing one and injuring 17. Before that, the ride had been one of the Fair's top attractions, shuttling passengers back and forth across the Midway and providing a bird's-eye view of the neon-lit festivities. This year the fair will reopen a new version of the ride—renamed the Texas Skyway; the cable system of 34 gondolas comes complete with the latest and greatest safety features afforded by modern technology. It also marks the first permanent addition to the Midway since the opening of the Texas Star, and it's about time—we've been waiting more than 20 years for something else to challenge our fear of heights. So keep an eye out for us up there—we'll be the ones hyperventilating with our eyes closed.
We could hardly believe our eyes when we saw that Magnetic Field/Gothic Archie/indie-pop genius Stephin Merritt was accompanying one Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, on an October 2006 book tour promoting the final installment in the Snicket saga. And when we saw the tour was stopping not in Dallas proper, but in Frisco and Waxahachie, we were truly beside ourselves. Heartbroken. Despondent. How in the world could the young, lily-white suburbanites truly appreciate the man who brought us 69 Love Songs? But the little bastards really seem to like a ukulele tune, and that Snicket fella is damned entertaining. We could've done with a few more songs from Stephin, but seriously, we'd welcome back Handler anytime too. Hey, Harry Potter nerds, does your precious wizard hero have a sweet indie rock soundtrack? We didn't think so.
Contemporary Theatre of Dallas
When the curtain first went up at this church-turned-playhouse off Lower Greenville six years ago, some were quick to sneer that it was merely a vanity project for owner, founder and resident leading lady Sue Loncar. But it didn't take long for audiences and critics to start appreciating CTD for doing something other Dallas theaters don't: Making sure everybody, onstage and off, has a good time. Loncar still loses money on most of her shows, which rival WaterTower and Dallas Theater Center for dollars spent on talent, sets and costumes. But then she comes up with a mass appeal hit like Best Little Whorehouse or Last Night of Ballyhoo and proves once again that giving theatergoers what they want (including booze at intermish) isn't a bad way to do showbiz. Along the way, Loncar's also become a strong actress in her own right, earning her best notices for the title role in this season's poignant Preston Jones comedy, Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander. CTD's rep as an important regional theater is growing too, and for all of Loncar's devotion to soft-sell plays, she's not entirely immune to art. Along with an annual revival of Ballyhoo (one of Loncar's all-time favorites to star in), the 2007-'08 season will feature A Streetcar Named Desire.
Actors love working with him and die-hard theatergoers know that when René Moreno is directing, chances are the results will be intensely entertaining. Comedies, dramas, musicals—the guy has a deft touch with every genre. This past season saw him helming Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Addison's WaterTower Theatre and Preston Jones' Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas—two plays as different as caviar and banana puddin'. What's his secret for getting the best results from his casts? "He's not a one-size-fits-all type of director," says James Crawford, who starred in Moreno's production of Woolf. "He understands that not every play needs to be directed the same way. I trust his eye. Sometimes actors are afraid they'll look stupid when they do something onstage. But with René, you take more risks because you know he'll always make you look great." This season Moreno will take a big risk in his career, moving back to the acting arena to play the lead in Kitchen Dog's January production of Shakespeare's Richard III. Winter of our discontent theater-wise? Not with Moreno's penchant for perfection.

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