STAGE REVIEW: ‘The Down Low’

The Down Low by Danny O'Connor  _Credit -Audacity Theatre      LabSimon (Jeff Swearingen), a fussy high school theater teacher gets a strange phone call from his colleague Aaron (Danny O’Connor), the school’s health teacher. Why has he been beckoned so suddenly? Will they finally become friends? Simon kind of answers the question himself when he asks Aaron: “Why is a naked African-American man dead in your bedroom?”

And so begins 85 minutes of dark-humored, often poor-taste (but hysterically funny) jokes about gay experimentation, inappropriate parent-teacher relationships, recreational drug use and the Polish secret police. Danny O’Connor also wrote this one-act comedy, called The Down Low, which is performed in front of a tiny 15 audience members in the home of one of the actors in East Dallas (it’s on Mockingbird Lane between Greenville Avenue and Skillman Street). There aren’t many seats available, if any still are in the two remaining performances, but do what you can to snag a few and see grassroots theater artistry that’s so alive, you can overlook how much it’s really about death.

The plot is wackadoo but strangely believable. Aaron wants to experiment with giving a blow job (“I’m not gay!” he insists, despite all evidence to the contrary) and things go horribly wrong, necessitating he seek help from Simon, the only gay guy he knows. (The implication: Gays are used to disposing of tricks who die brutally; it usually happens between gym and brunch, I suppose.) Aaron’s roommate Jack (Jordan Tomenga), a male nurse, and Jack’s FWB Kassia (Robin Clayton) also get dragged into the plot, which takes more turns than a mountain road before becoming not just dark, but outright menacing.

There’s much to love in the show, from the intimacy (the whole from of the house is utilized by directed Brian Grunkowski) to the off-handed line-readings (Swearingen and O’Connor are two of the best at what they do) to the deadpan dialogue that sneaks up on you with its sick humor. But say too much and you’ll ruin it. Suffice it to say, it goes where it has to, and takes you along for the ride. By the end, you’re more co-conspirator than watcher. That’s an exciting way to consume theater.

Through Saturday.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Quinones named new chef at Kitchen LTO

Anastacia Quinones

Anastacia Quinones, the former chef at Komali, won the polling among supporters of Casie Caldwell’s Kitchen LTO in Trinity Groves to become the fifth person to lead the stage there with her twist on Mexican cuisine.

The current chef, Blythe Beck, had two four-month terms leading the “permanent pop-up” concept, but Quinones will actually be on board for a full six-month stint, running June 2 through December.

At the same time, artist Crimson Shults was selected as the winning artist, whose work will establish the decor in the restaurant.

Beck’s last night there will be the end of May.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Knife launches film series with, natch, ‘Chef’

chefIt’s an example of life imitating art and then using art to illustrate life. Last summer, just as the indie film Chef — about a volatile chef who gets into a viral shouting match with a local food critic — was hitting theaters, John Tesar, the chef at the newly-opened Knife steakhouse at The Highland Dallas, was getting into a very public shouting match with a local critic (not me, of course — I’m a delight). There were some who accused Tesar of capitalizing on the film (ludicrous, since it wasn’t a big hit anyway) … though he did address that in my interview with him about the opening of Knife. In the same article, chef told me that one of his plans for the restaurant was a film series on the outdoor patio area, which Tesar — himself a movie fan — would program.

So perhaps it is not a huge surprise that, for the introduction of the series (which is a lot later than we expected, but that’s the restaurant business for you), Tesar has chosen to screen … Chef. Honestly, that’s not something you should miss, if only to howl at the similarities (and dissimilarities) with Dallas reality. It kicks off on Sunday, May 17. And keeping with the foodie theme, subsequent films will include Big Night, Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Julie and Julia.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Love needs no translation

Just watch this. And remember: Italy is a “Christian” nation. Seems to have remained standing through this. And listen to those cheers.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cocktail Friday: Mother’s Day Edition

Solerno_BelliniSunday is Mother’s Day, and maybe you’ll want to toast dear ol’ ma with an adult beverage that even she will enjoy. Natch, that excludes vodka and Red Bull, Jell-O shooters, Everclear and Kool-Aid and the like. Try this pleasant twist of the Bellini.

1 oz. Solerno liqueur

2 oz. blood orange puree (or juice)

3 oz. Prosecco (or other sparkling wine)

Making it: Shake Solerno and orange puree/juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Fine strain into a champagne flute, then fill with bubbly.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Chris Hemsworth’s enormous boner is the best reason to watch the new ‘Vacation’ trailer

Screen shot 2015-05-07 at 4.31.56 PMScreen shot 2015-05-07 at 4.31.26 PM They have remade the old Chevy Chase comedy Vacation, which normally I wouldn’t care about, except the trailer has a brief-wearing, lean Chris Hemsworth sporting an enormous package. I’ve excerpted the best parts here, but if you want, you can see the entire trailer here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Kitchen LTO is about to pick a new chef, and you can vote

LTOLast last year, Blythe Beck became the first chef to repeat her stint leading the kitchen at Kitchen LTO, Casie Caldwell’s “permanent pop-up” restaurant in Trinity Groves. Well, Beck’s delicious tenure is about to come to an end, and five new chefs are vying for the spot, all of whom were introduced to diners at an event on Sunday night.

Some you might already know: Anastacia Quinones, who led Abraham Salum’s kitchen at Salum for about two years (as you might expect, her cuisine is Modern Mexican); Adrien Nieto, who may look familiar (he was on Season 2 of MasterChef) and has lived in Dallas about a year, making California-inspired food; David Rodriguez, who served a braised beef cheek and white Anson Mills grits in support of his Modern Texas style; and two chefs who ran out at the tasting before I got a sample: Ken Patrick (Southwestern) and Chris Stephens (New American).  Attendees got to vote for each of the chefs and weigh in on their favorites.

But there’s no reason you can’t vote as well. You have through Saturday, May 9, to cast your support in favor of any of the five (as well as several artists aiming to set the decor theme at LTO). Vote with a click here. And may the best one win!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Small-town crazy: Reviews of ‘The D Train,’ ‘Bravetown’

D-TRAINEver since he started in the Texas-set Bernie, playing a sweet-natured gay murderer, I’ve had to take Jack Black a little more seriously as an actor. So if he does a boutique film — even a comedy with X-Man James Marsden (perhaps the most underrated actor to appear in a string of huge box-office hits) — you kinda-sorta have to check him out … even though Bernie felt like one of those one-in-a-lifetime roles.

In The D Train, Black plays Dan, another small-town schlub, but unusually obsessed with a heartthrob former classmate, Oliver Lawless (Marsden), whose national sunscreen commercial reminds Dan of the potential he once had. He sets out trying to convince Oliver (too-cool, bisexual, and not as successful as he seems) to return for their high school reunion, making Dan a hero … or will it? And how does he really feel about Oliver, anyway?

The D Train wasn’t written by Mike White, even though he appears in a small role, but it has a definitely Mike White vibe: Maudlin yet awkward, empowering but realistic. (White wrote Black’s School of Rock as well as Chuck & Buck, among other quirky films.) The D Train takes an unexpected turn at the starts of the second act that sets it apart from the typical yearning-for-more middle-aged comedy of which is it definitely a part. Is this a story about an awakening or something more?

Black’s performance isn’t quite at the level of Bernie — it would be difficult to be that specific and full of such pathos — but he’s good at the awkwardness, and Marsden makes for a suitable dreamy yet remote fantasy man. It’s an unlikely teaming for an anti-romantic comedy, but an effective one precisely for its unexpectedness.

Opens Friday in wide release.

Bravetown. If D Train paints the boring side of suburbia, Bravetown shows the dangerous side of the big city. Josh (Lucas Till) is a teenaged club DJ who’s hot (physically and musically) and full of himself … and in trouble as well. After a drug OD and a string of petty crimes gets him in trouble with the law, he’s forced into the custody of his absentee dad (Tom Everett Scott), in Middle of Nowhere, U.S.A. He’s a hip kid among the local dullards. Though of course it might not end up as bad as it first seems.

Bravetown is a difficult film to parse: It has the pulsating rhythms (early on) of a club-centric urban cautionary tale, but quickly becomes an intimate domestic drama with a warmth for the countryside of the Upper Midwest. The a kind of Footloose/Drumline hybrid. Each feels a bit exaggerated, but even so, the emotions resonate. Till is a handsome young man with an accessibility to his brooding, and Josh Duhamel is solid as his court-ordered counselor. It never hits the level of Ordinary People (what has?) but it works on its sincerity alone.

Open Friday at the AMC Mesquite.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Girl on Girls action: Jenny Block starts monthly column this Friday

JennyBlockSo we know you are looking for girl on girls action … and not the way straight men do. No, you want a female perspective on females, or just sex and relationships in general, and that’s what Jenny Block offers.

Starting this Friday, Block’s column will appear monthly in the Scoop section of Dallas Voice (alternating with our popular Ask Howard feature, on weeks when Cassie Nova’s too busy tucking to write a cogent piece). Jenny, a Lambda Literary Award winner and nationally-known sex columnist (as well as a longstanding Voice contender and frequent running buddy of mine), will talk about taboo subject related to sexuality, family and anything you wanna ask her. In fact, you can start getting your questions in at GirlOnGirlsJenny@gmail.com.

Welcome aboard, Jenny!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cocktail Friday: Cinco de Mayo Edition!

Pina MargNo Cinco de Mayo celebration would be complete without a margarita, but why make it a classic when you can gussy it up? NYC mixologist Kyle Ford came up with sveral variations on the standard, some of which we’ve reproduced for you here.

The Pina Margarita

2 oz. blanco tequila (I chose the new Casa Dragones blanco)

1 oz. Cointreau

1 oz. fresh lime juice

1 oz. pineapple juice

Fresh pineapple

Making it: Muddle some pieces of pineapple (pina) in the bottom of a mixing glass, then add ingredients and shake with ice. Strain over a sugar-cinnamon-rimmed rocks glass. Garnish with a wedge of fresh pineapple.

INVERTEDThe Inverted Margarita

By reversing the ratio of tequila and liqueur, the citrus notes become more prominent with less bite from tequila. (To add a little spiciness, Ford suggests muddling a jalapeno in the recipe.)

1 1/2 oz. Cointreau

3/4 oz. blanco tequila

3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

Making it: Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Rim with salt. Garnish with a lime wheel and/or jalapeno (optional).

The Spicy Lady

For a more traditional (i.e., non-inverted) mix that already has its kick, try this one.

2 oz. blanco tequila

1 oz. Cointreau

3/4 oz. lime juice

Fresh slices of jalapeno spicy004

Sprig of cilantro

Making it: Lightly muddle jalapeno and cilantro with wet ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into an iced rocks glass. Garnish with jalapeno and cilantro.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones