In Our Undies Celebrating the '80s Music Scene at The Music Box Theatre

Categories: Stage

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Photo courtesy of Archaic Media
Vavra Holland, Cole Ryden, Christina Stroup and Tyce Green in In Our Undies
The setup:

Four talented performers now rehearsing for Reefer Madness at TUTS Underground found time as well to prepare a tribute to '80s music, under the title In Our Undies. Despite the name, and some performers getting down to their skivvies, the evening was about as sensual as a church social. This seems appropriate as, after all, weren't the '80s when we took a break, and rested up from the tumultuous '70s?

The execution:

There is a four-piece band onstage, and four microphones downstage, and that is
it, but the enthusiasm of the performers and band and, yes, the audience as well, created a warm and welcoming ambience.

The performers are Tyce Green, who was brilliant in Spring Awakening and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Holland Vavra, who has led countless musicals to success at Stages Rep, Christina Stroup, recently a powerhouse standout as the Witch in Into the Woods, and Cole Ryden, a relative newcomer, but the best dancer of the group, loose as a goose, with his own low-key charm.

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Romping Through (and over) Hitchcock with A.D. Players and The 39 Steps

Categories: Stage

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Photo courtesy of A.D. Players
The comedy/thriller reimagined as pure farce
The set-up:
A.D. Players produces one of its freshest, funniest productions in memory with Patrick Barlow's adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps. This 2008 Tony-winner and Drama Desk award recipient for "unique theatrical experience" is just plain goofy - and that goofiness is its utter, unique charm.

The execution:
One of Hitchcock's best comedy/thrillers and his first truly international hit, the 1935 movie, loosely adapted by screenwriter Charles Bennett from the 1915 John Buchan novel, starred English matinee idol Robert Donat and radiantly blond Madeleine Carroll as dueling, unwitting partners in crime. Handcuffed together, the pair scramble over the Scottish moors looking for the criminal mastermind, eluding police, and dodging suspicious highlanders. Patrick Barlow reimagines the comedy/thriller as pure farce. A cast of four plays all the parts. Hitchcock's movie is there in plot, scenes, verbatim dialogue, but Barlow has added a great dollop of English panto and a generous seltzer spritz of Monty Python.


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Pop Rocks: 5 New Fall Network TV Shows Already Locked Into My DVR

Categories: Pop Rocks

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Creepy and comic book-y.
With the fall comes cooler weather, fewer hurricanes -- a worry for those of us along the Gulf Coast, especially -- and new TV shows. Television has become rich with quality programming over the last decade, for all intents and purposes surpassing films in practically every way. Now that cable-only networks, subscription outfits like HBO and streaming services like Netflix have entered the fray, new, outstanding shows are popping up all over the place.

The big networks may not always come strong with the kind of quirky, dramatic programming to be found on Showtime or Amazon, they still know how to deliver in a big way. It makes sense. Ultimately, almost every creative would love for his show to end up on a network. They pay the most and offer some of the largest budgets. Maybe you can't make True Blood on NBC, but Scandal seems tailor made for weeknight network programming.

With quite a few decent new shows premiering this fall, my DVR is already loaded and the big networks are well represented.

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"Earl Staley: Reconstructions" Mixes Greco-Roman Myths With More Modern Techniques

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo courtesy of the artist and Jung Center
Earl Staley's Awakening portrays the growth in nature
The first thing a person notices in entering the Jung Center gallery rooms is that there is a strangeness to the paintings. Not strange in the sense of inappropriate, but strange in the sense that they are highly unusual and distinctive. The explanation lies in the duality of the art.

The artist Earl Staley, who did a series of paintings of Greco-Roman mythology 30 years ago, has now cut each of these works into strips of canvas, repainted over them with brush strokes and dots, and reattached the strips to a new canvas. The result is a double image resonating of both the past and the present.

In some paintings, the original image has almost entirely disappeared; in others it is still dominant. It is most visible in Polyphemus and Galatea, portraying the Cyclops Polyphemus forcing his attentions on the nymph Galatea. The overpainting seems to screen the sensuality, but curiously, it actually heightens it.


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Doctor Who: You've Really Got to Listen to "Listen"

Categories: Doctor Who

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I can honestly say that "Listen" is probably the most difficult episode of Doctor Who I've ever had to review. Even aside from the fact that it's probably the most atypical episode since "Blink', it's nearly impossible to discuss it without revealing major plot points. To that end, I'm going to try to keep to generalities on page one, but page two is definitely only for those who aren't worried about having the episode's revelations discussed at length.

Capaldi gives us a very interesting look at his Doctor on his own. It's actually pretty rare to see The Doctor without a mirror in the form of a companion. Ten did so with terrible loneliness in "Partners in Crime" and Eight showed off his hyperactive jabbering really happens whether there's anyone around to listen or not in "Storm Warning", but Twelve is something very sinister when he broods in his solitude.

"Listen" is about nightmares. At its heart it is an exploration on the very nature of fear, and while I still think Steven Moffat's ability to execute his ambitious idea has fallen below par writing-wise you can't take anything from the fact that "Listen" has a pretty brilliant premise.

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What Modern Gaming Can Learn From Left Behind: Eternal Forces

Categories: Gaming

Recently the trailer (Above) for the film adaptation of the Christian apocalyptic novel Left Behind was released. If you're somehow ignorant of one of the most famous bits of religious propaganda of the 20th century then know it's about how people who miss the Rapture will have to deal with an evil global force led by the Antichrist. All that really matters is that the movie is insane and stars Nicholas Cage, and that's something no one should miss.

It got me thinking about the Left Behind empire, and in doing so I picked up a copy of Left Behind: Eternal Forces for PC from Amazon for about $5 with shipping. Sure, it's from 2006, but so is my laptop so it fit like a glove.

In doing so, I found out that there's actually a lot modern gaming could learn from the game.

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Hits and Misses in These Variations on Shakespeare's Othello and Desdemona

Categories: Stage

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Photo courtesy of Trebuchet Players
Several twists on Shakespeare including some he would have liked
The set-up:
The glories of Shakespeare run so deep that endless variations can be played on his themes and characters. Trebuchet Players, one of Houston's youngest theater companies, present two one-acts that spin his great tragedy Othello. Waiting for Othello is a gleeful drunk, stumbling about like a sloshed frat boy; Desdemona, A Play about a Handkerchief, a serious feminist deconstruction, uses better quality alcohol.

The execution:
Commissioned for Trebuchet from local playwright Bryan Maynard, Waiting flits all over, a Monty Python-esque skit in need of more substance. MORE? Huzzah!! Embedded inside Maynard's play is a drinking game. Every time a character says "Moor" or synonym "more," the audience raises a beer toast. The "mores" come fast and furious, and the gradual ensuing buzz lightens the play. However, even the wonders of St. Arnold Brewing Company can only do so much.


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The Changing Face of Houston: Sharpstown Then and Now

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Photo by Matthew Rutledge
Frank Sharp's solution to connecting Sharpstown to Downtown today.

The Sharpstown area has changed a great deal over the decades since its creation, and those changes reflect the way Houston has continued to evolve, a city constantly in motion. Originally the vision of developer Frank Sharp, who also created Oak Forest, construction of Sharpstown began in the mid '50s and was completed in 1961. At the time, the neighborhood was recognized as the largest subdivision in the United States, with its own mall and a golf course.

It's easy for modern residents to forget how small Houston was half a century ago, but Sharpstown was considered a suburban escape from the hassles of living in the big city, while still conveniently only 15 minutes or so from the downtown area.

The development allowed for schools, recreation, and retail areas as well as nice post-war homes (a new concept at the time), making Sharpstown one of the nation's first master-planned developments, and the first such community in Houston.

Frank Sharp was concerned about easy transport between downtown Houston and his new neighborhood development, so he donated land to the state of Texas, which became the Southwest Freeway. This ensured that Sharpstown would be connected to the heart of Houston, and that deliveries to the new mall would also be reliable. Back then the mall was named Sharpstown Center, and offered shoppers perks such as air-conditioning, something that was not standard at the time.


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Writing for the Houston Press Arts Website: Here's Your Chance

Categories: Our Staff

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Photo by Don Schneider
No, actually we're talking about writing, not riding
Once again we are looking to expand the number of freelancers we have on the Houston Press arts website.

If you've ever wanted to write about the arts -- dance, the symphony, pop culture in Houston and in some cases the larger world -- and you can put together sentences with some amount of cleverness (knowing grammar rules is also a plus) then wer may have a spot for you.

We celebrate the arts and the people who practice them here in all their glory (we just finished our annual Houston Theater Awards) but if something doesn't measure up, we'll say so.


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8 Unconventional Vampire Films That Don't Suck

Categories: Film and TV

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Photo by JoshBerglund19
After suffering through so many awful vampire movies over the years, I wish I could've taken them all out with one of these.
As a lifelong horror movie fan, I've grown to dread most vampire films. How can such a venerable and classic film monster be so off-putting to me? Most vampire films just seem to suck, and not just in the cool, neck-bitey way. I guess that I see a particularly common lack of originality in most vampire movies, as most of the modern ones seem to just rip off Anne Rice or go the pseudo-super hero route like the Blade movies. Very rarely are vampires even portrayed as scary anymore, they're more often black vinyl clad immortals with complicated sex lives and super powers.

A lot of people like those types of vampire movies, so to each their own. I've tended to enjoy ones that break from the mold in one way or another, and bring something new and interesting to the mythology. Sure, the old style, cape and coffin vampires are fun, but it's difficult to really take them seriously anymore. It's just such an old fashioned image, and has been done to death. Yes, I like Hammer horror films, and the old Universal monster movies, but they don't generally scare me, they've become somewhat quaint over the many decades since their releases.

While this is not a comprehensive list, here are a few vampire films I really like for one reason or another.

8. "The Hunger" - 1983

OK, The Hunger is not a "great" film, but it's definitely heavy on atmosphere and was a break from the typical, caped Dracula mold. The film has a great beginning that used footage of Bauhaus playing their iconic song "Bela Lugosi's Dead," and it's no wonder that so many goths I've known love this movie. Despite having more than a few flaws, "The Hunger" also has David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, and Catherine Deneuve, not to mention an odd take on the idea of immortality and everlasting youth, making it a memorable entry into the vampire genre.

7. "Martin" - 1976

This is one of George Romero's '70s era films that's not as well known as his zombie masterpieces, but it's a very good unconventional vampire movie. John Amplas plays Martin, a young man who may or may not be a real vampire. Whatever he is, Martin has problems, because he has visions from the distant past that indicate he's an old world vampire. Then again, these may be fabrications of his own mind - it's never entirely clear. After a train ride in which Martin drugs and kills a woman by slashing her wrist with a razor and then drinking the blood, he is taken in by an old relative who believes Martin is a real nosferatu. The film never lets on whether Martin is a supernatural being or a mentally deranged killer, but that is part of why the movie is so interesting. I'd rank Martin as one of Romero's best films, it's certainly worth a look.

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