Best Theater Company 2015 | Undermain Theatre | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

For several decades, the 90-seat basement space in Deep Ellum has staged avant-garde plays by emerging writers. This season, however, something clicked on a higher level with the world premiere of Gordon Dahlquist's sci-fi drama Tomorrow Come Today, the tightly focused work of actor Shannon Kearns Simmons as the title character in The Testament of Mary and the impeccably acted and directed (by Blake Hackler) The Flick, Annie Baker's Pulitzer winner about three nobodies working in an old cinema. Undermain's married founders Katherine Owens and Bruce DuBose have lined up another challenging season, including Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night, which regional theaters rarely touch (it opens early next year), and the current premiere (through October 17) of Meg Moroshnik's The Droll (Or, a Stage Play about the END of Theatre), about a time when all theater is banned and one troupe puts on a secret Hamlet. End of theater? Not at Undermain.

Mike Brooks

When you think of an all-ages venue you might think punk music and kids waving middle fingers at their parents and the establishment. But cultivating a great all-ages audience is really about respect for elders. The Kessler Theater, an always-all-ages venue, is nothing if not reverent toward music's past, and it's the perfect place for young music fans to gain an appreciation for history. To say The Kessler books "legacy acts" would be to give it short shrift; catching the Mavis Staples or Zombies of the world in a 400-person theater is once-in-a-lifetime stuff and a chance for those under-18 music-heads to experience music the way it should be.

Founder and director Sue Birch's small professional company in Plano keeps the accent on all things English in seasons packed with murder mysteries, farces and traditional holiday "pantos." Production quality is consistently tickety-boo (as Brits would say), with fairy-tale panto shows designed like storybooks come to life (and scripts designed to make adults giggle, too). You'll find authentic English snackies at intermission (try the prawn crisps). Shows frequently sell out. "I see a great deal of affection for all things British," says Birch. Alan Ayckbourn's saucy comedy How the Other Half Loves is playing through October 4. The next panto is King Arthur, opening November 28.

Theatre Britain performs in the Cox Building Playhouse. Visit Theatre Britain for information about performances.

He often starts with a title: A School Bus Named Desire. Then writer-director Jeff Swearingen creates an ingenious homage to the original play, but with the twist of using children and teens as characters. As the co-founder and director of all-youth Fun House Theatre and Film, Swearingen has wowed critics and audiences with his smart Mamet spoof, Daffodil Girls (a Glengarry satire about the cutthroat world of Scout cookie sales); his holiday-themed take on Albee called Yes, Virginia Woolf, There Is a Santa Claus; and the pie-throwing Game of Thrones, Jr. His best might be Stiff, a showbiz farce that had a Sweet Smell of Success in its plot about a theater critic whose untimely death threatens an opening night. If one of Swearingen's brilliant little comedies-with-kids is opening, we're there.

What's more do-it-yourself than not having a fixed address? Local artist Arthur Peña flipped the script on the DIY venue model by doing away with the actual venue (and the overhead) to set up a roving DIY space, Vice Palace. Peña has always liked things weird (witness a George Quartz show or Dezi 5's crucifixion), but his best and battiest trick yet may be the new, city of Dallas-funded Vice Palace cassette label, for which he recorded live shows at Aqua Lab Studios to release as one-off tapes. Peña proves you can do anything with enough imagination.

If Lower Greenville has increasingly come to resemble Uptown with its rooftop bars and valet parking, then at least one bar, and in particular one weekly music showcase, has been keeping the neighborhood's creative spirit intact. That bar is The Crown & Harp, and thanks to Stefan González, who curates the Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions each Monday, it's one of Dallas' most vital hubs for experimental and noise music. From free jazz to noise rock to one-man bands, Outward Bound's guiding principle is to toss rules out the window. Local music doesn't get more wild or inspired than this.

With this season's world premiere of Dallas playwright Jonathan Norton's moving drama Mississippi Goddamn, vickie washington (she likes it lower case) reminded us that she's one of the finest stage directors in North Texas. Expert at bringing new works like Norton's to stages at South Dallas Cultural Center, Jubilee Theatre and in her day job at Booker T. Washington School for the Performing and Visual Arts, washington says the future of Dallas theater is secure because there's so much talent here. Her group Reading the Writers is focused on "finding pieces that aren't on the beaten path and bringing them to life," she says. Sounds like a move in the right direction.

Hip-hop is booming right now in Dallas (just ask Noisey), but if you really want to know what makes the scene tick you have to go underground. No one in North Texas has a finger on the pulse of hip-hop, both local and touring, like the folks behind, who specialize in late-night, DIY after-parties. They set up camp at places like Ash Studios or random Airbnbs, and it's not uncommon to catch rappers such as Vic Mensa and Travi$ Scott mingling with the Outfit, TX or Blue, the Misfit at these packed parties. You might even catch a world premiere, such as when Scott debuted "Antidote" this summer.

Theatrical set designer Rodney Dobbs regularly makes something out of nothing. Starting with a bare stage, with some plywood, paint and lots of imagination, he can re-create 1960s Southern suburbia, as he did for the play Mississippi Goddamn, or go multilevel with fancy staircases and video screens for Uptown Players' glossy musical Catch Me If You Can. As a founder of low-budget Pocket Sandwich Theatre, Dobbs learned how to stretch a dollar while making visual magic. And he's used to backstage hazards. "It's not a finished set," he says, "until I've bled on it."

This should be a two-horse race. Where else in Dallas would you want to BYOB (or technically speaking, BYOL) other than Ships Lounge or R.L.'s Blues Palace? The answer is, "Nowhere, you idiot." Sadly, Ships' recent (though, God willing, temporary) closure means there can only be one, Highlander-style. R.L.'s is an utterly unique experience in Dallas. The club is only open for a few hours a week, and it's a slice of life that hearkens back to the juke joints and blues clubs of yore. So bring along some liquor, grab a bucket of ice and sit back and enjoy the Hen Dance.

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