Occupy Christmas!

That one-percenter Scrooge actually has a heart at DTC; a panto aims for the ‘Dick’

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VERMIN AND PEARLS | A rat queen (Kate Rutledge) terrorizes a cross-dressing Dick Whittington (Jad B. Sexton) in the latest panto from Theatre Britain.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Having seen A Christmas Carol at the Dallas Theater Center about a dozen times now, which plays for a full month every December, the thing I can never quite wrap my mind around is how, during the other 11 months of the year, folks don’t see crotchety ol’ Ebenezer in themselves — at least, the ones running for the Republican presidential nomination. Scrooge is a right scourge (c’mon, don’t tell me that never occurred to you?) of the poor. In the opening moments, he rejects the idea of giving money to charity.

“Isn’t that what the workhouses are for?” he cruelly asks.  Why don’t the poor do us all a favor and die, he rhetorically wonders, “and decrease the surplus population?” It’s the transformation at the end — the transition from starting as Gingrich (or is that Gin-grinch?) and ending up as Obama, all yes-we-can and full of hope — from which the beauty of the story emerges. And he gets there entirely via some ghosts, not with the assistance of Occupy Hyde Park.

The Theater Center has been roasting this chestnut since the Carter administration, but to be honest, there’s almost always something new to enjoy with it. The surprise this year (other than the absence of both Denise Lee and Liz Mikel — the first time in my memory at least one has not be in it) is how the director, Joel Ferrell (returning to the show after taking a break last year), has brought out both the humor and the horror of this most famous of ghost stories.

The play begins as it never has before: With a flashback. We see Jacob Marley (Jonathan Brooks) on his death-bed years earlier, writhing in such agony you can imagine the horrors of wandering through limbo the better part of a decade before he finally manifests in Scrooge’s chambers to warn him to change his ways. That appearance is equally frightening, as is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, looming 10 feet tall, scratching the outline of Ebenezer’s grave on the ground like a fingernail on a blackboard.

But the moments of levity are more buoyant than before as well. Brooks and Steven Walters, as ghoulish and plainly gay businessmen who foppishly snipe at the dead man whose funeral has been long overdue, give a sassy bitchiness to the scene that’s never been there before. Brian Gonzales’ brogued-out Fezziwig has the twinkling airiness of a leprechaun.

The only weakness, if you can even call it that, is Ebenezer himself.

The part this year is played by Kurt Rhoads, who has a long history with the DTC since the 1980s and has certainly seen his share of Carols. He’s a brittle ol’ fussbudget in Act 1, but Act 2 is where the magic really happens — that’s where Scrooge finally develops the Christmas spirit and reminds us all not to be as cynical and hatemongering as the Michele Bachmanns and Rick Perrys and FoxNewses of the world … that, indeed, the one-percenters can be real people, too.

Rhoads gets there, but the transition lacks the warm-n-fuzzies you look forward to every year. Maybe it’s because his makeup is too good: Stringy white hair, a sallow, mottled complexion, angular, hard features. He looks the same before and after — a bit of rouge might have softened and warmed him, giving Scrooge human coloring at least.

Not that it matters much. The point is, in the end, the season has made a better person out of a rich guy. Hey, that’s why we go to the theater: We enjoy the fantasy.

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GOD BLESS US | The Ghost of Christmas Present (Kevin Ryan Smith, left) shows Scrooge (Kurt Rhoads, right) what his behavior hath wrought in DTC’s ‘Christmas Carol.’ (Photo courtesy Karen Almond)

The character of Dick Whittington doesn’t have quite the resonance this side of the pond as Ebenezer S. does, but in England, he’s a staple of history (once lord mayor on London) and the comic stage, with his cat as well known as he. So it was about time Theatre Britain turned Dick Whittington into one of their annual Christmas pantos.

If you haven’t seen a panto, they are difficult to describe without sounding slightly batty. They are children’s theater, but they also have a lot of drag characters. They have broad slapstick comedy and simple plots among the dirtiest fast-paced jokes this side of Judd Apatow. They have sing-alongs and ghosts and lots of corn-dog gimmicks. In short, they are for every taste, even if you don’t know it.

For instance, having a main character called “Dick,” you’re likely to be assaulted with a barrage of, ahem, “dick” jokes: “What’s your name?” “Dick.” “I like you already!” Or: “We have three minutes to find Dick.” “You can’t find dick in three minutes.”

There! That chuckle, that grin you just allowed yourself? That’s panto.

The newest show is a naughty charmer with some of the raciest humor this side of Russell Brand. There’s Dame Overeasy (James Chandler), a guy in a dress all tarted-up, she obviously works in a tart shop (that’s part of the hidden gaggery of a show like this). Dick (played by a woman, Jad B. Sexton) brings along his cat Tom (Jean-Luc Hester, a great pantomimist with feline moves and purrs) to defeat  the rats, led by a queen (Kate Rutledge), who looks like Julie Newmar switching alliances, inviting hisses from the audience.

The pop culture references — from Titanic to Beyonce to a trio of Disney-esque gangster rats (the best of whom, Chris Sykes, looks like he actually grew up in a sewer — and I mean that in the best possible way) who seem to have stepped out of a lost reel of Ratatouille — are plentiful for the adults, the physical humor over-the-top kid-friendly. It makes for good, not-so-clean family fun.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Nice Nosh

Samuel’s replacement for Aurora re-invents the euro bistro with style

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | jones@dallasvoice.com

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HERE’S THE BEEF | Atop a pillow of coarse cheddar grits and crowned with frisee salad, the espresso short rib packs a flavorful wallop. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Nosh, with its well-stocked bar and dark woods, does resemble a Hyde Park tavern. But don’t pigeonhole the OakLawn restaurant, which bills itself as a “Euro Bistro,” in the gastropub genre. It has the look of it, but the feel of something more French. Think New York’s Pastis and Balthazar, or even Dallas’ own Café Toulouse with more polish. Or just think of it for what it really is: Arguably the best new restaurant in Dallas this year.

Such kudos are not new to Avner Samuel, Nosh’s chef-owner. Avner’s and Bistro A had great followings, as did his last restaurant, Aurora, which occupied the same space as Nosh for more than six years. An avatar of fine-dining,

Aurora had a rep (unjustified in my opinion) for being overpriced. It was expensive, but the execution, food quality, service and atmosphere were all exquisite. You got what you paid for.

But it was, admittedly, a tad fussy. It was a quiet restaurant, with padded, camel-colored suede walls and few tables.

You wore a coat and tie, even it they didn’t require it. Aurora was event dining, meant to impress.

Nosh is Aurora’s spoiled, rocker li’l brother. The dining room is bigger (they took over the space next door) and there are more tables. The wine list — a well-thought-out cross of reds and whites, bottles and judicious by-the-glass entries — is reasonably priced, as is the entire menu. The most expensive items (halibut and beef tenderloin) top out at $25 — and they are the only things over $19 aside from specials. The hum of diners fuels the experience without drowning out yours — it has buzz, from lunch to dinner.

The menu doesn’t change from lunch to dinner, either in selection of prices. I kinda like that; it means you can enjoy a croque-monsieur sandwich ($10) as a warm slice of Euro-comfort food during the day or as a casual dinner meal. (Either way, try it: crisp bread houses gooey gruyere cheese oozing over Bayonne ham with a béchamel sauce.)

Probably the best appetizer on the regular menu are miso Berkshire pork ribs (and at $6, a bargain). Two bones, crossed like lush little swords, hold the meat in place only until it touches your lips and falls into your mouth, the sweet-salty glaze of miso cutting the delicious fattiness of the pork.

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WARM WOOD | The dark wood and ample natural light imbue the dining room with cozy warmth.

The spiced beef “cigars” ($5) are more panatela than Churchill: thin tapered wands, like flauta straws, served with a pear-saffron marmalade — perfect for noshing on, which is exactly the point. Nosh’s Egyptian falafel ($6) presents a surprise when you cut into it: A breathtakingly vivid splash of parsley-green. That keeps the inside exceptionally moist, even as the crust of chickpeas is browned and crunch. Tahini sauce on top offsets the peppernata relish beneath.

A good chicken dish is foundational to a skilled chef, and aside from a excess of watercress obscuring its beautiful finish, the pan roasted “native” chicken ($17) could be the best evidence of Nosh’s bona fides are something more than an agreeable lunch spot. The bird could not have been more precisely cooked, with bacon jus and buttermilk potatoes turning a home cookin’ staple into a highlight of the menu.

Samuel bragged that his version of duck confit ($15) is the best in Dallas. If it’s not, it’s damned close: Pitch black cherries dot the bowl, their ripe sweetness working with the saltiness of the duck and a soothing a mash of cauliflower and leek. The roasted beet salad ($9) is delicious, as are the diver scallops ($19), served on large pearl couscous and intensely sweet oven-dried tomatoes and the espresso braised beef ribs ($17), with a pungent delight from coarse stone cheddar grits.

Samuel and his business partner, chef Jon Stevens, rotate specials every few days; I’ve been in three times when the Kobe meatballs were on the chalkboard, and should work their way onto the regular menu.

You can get some unannounced specials sitting at the chef’s table overlooking the kitchen. They float some unique dishes and works-in-progress to willing diners, such as chef Stevens’ version of a terrine, strata of foie gras and chicken in aspic — a rich but refreshing and not overly heavy protein bomb. One night, Samuel even experimented with unusual Japanese fish given to him by Tei An chef Teichii Sakurai. It was a discovery for both of us, with the crazy-fresh hobo fish’s soft flesh a wonder of flavor.

Desserts soar. My dining companion declared the apple tarte Tatin ($7) the best he’s ever had; it’s difficult to argue with that, as it arrived, bronzed and shiny, aloft on a disk of flaky pastry and topped with vanilla ice cream. The soufflé cake ($7) is atypical of the familiar molten lava concoction that has become as overused as crème brulee: It’s velvety, evaporating on the tongue. The financier ($7) gets points for a distinctly salty caramel amid the brittle crunch of hazelnut.

Service isn’t white-glove like Aurora, but it’s friendly and efficient. There’s a new energy in the space: Same chef, same address, new life. I can’t get eNosh.

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5 TOP TABLES

IMG_0954From a food standpoint, 2010 was the year of simple elegance.
When I do this “best of” list, I always steer clear of calling it “top new restaurants.” After all, restaurants change, experiences differ and eateries are hard to compare anyway. How do you rotate The French Room alongside an excellent taco stand? Is a sushi chef’s skill at cutting fish better or worse than a steakhouse’s selection and ageing of the right cuts of meat? Great service can’t make bad food good, but can bad service ruin an otherwise terrific meal?
Still, it’s unusual that the highest level of fine dining options did not stick out to me so much in 2010 as did genres that turned their styles into exquisite meals. I remember them all. (Some restaurants that opened after October are not considered for this list and will be eligible next year.)
So here are my 5 Top Tables of 2010:

1. Nosh. Handily the favorite. See review.

2. Saint Ann. This converted schoolhouse has personality to spare, with reasonably priced dishes, agreeable service and a slick, relaxed atmosphere. (Read the full review next month in the Voice.)

3. Urban Taco. The expanded menu at the new location on McKinney improves upon the original in every way, with spicy salsas, fast service and well-rounded entrees, all at good prices.

4. Maximo. This elegant updating of authentic Mexico City cuisine from the chef responsible for Trece improves up from that restaurant with exceptional dishes anda great wine list.

5. Seasons 52. Anyone who has experienced this Florida mainstay knows the specialty is tasty fare at controlled calories, and the first Texas opening continues the philosophy. Never miss the mini-indulgences, pictured — having three or more (which is easy to do) may bust the diet, but they are so worth it.
— A.W.J.

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Nosh-EuroNosh Euro Bistro
4216 Oak Lawn Ave.
Open for lunch and dinner Monday–Friday at 10 a.m., dinner only Saturday, 5 –10:30 p.m. 214-528-9400. NoshEuroBistro.com
Buzzy, fun, elegant and surprisingly buoyant, this take on the European cafe is just what Dallas’ dining scene needed.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Pope meets with abuse victims as thousands protest

NICOLE WINFIELD and VICTOR L. SIMPSON | Associated Press

LONDON — Pope Benedict XVI apologized Saturday, Sept. 18 to five people who were molested by priests as children in his latest effort to defuse the sex abuse crisis shaking his church, as thousands of people angered at the Vatican’s response marched in central London in the biggest protest of his 5-year papacy.

Early Sunday, Scotland Yard said six men who had been detained on suspicion of plotting an attack on the pope had been freed after an investigation.

Benedict met for about 30-40 minutes with the victims — four women and a man from Scotland, England and Wales — at the Vatican’s ambassador’s residence in Wimbledon and expressed “his deep sorrow and shame over what the victims and their families suffered,” according to the Vatican.

“He prayed with them and assured them that the Catholic Church is continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people, and that it is doing all in its power to investigate allegations, to collaborate with civil authorities and to bring to justice clergy and religious accused of these egregious crimes,” it said.

Across town, abuse victims and demonstrators opposed to the pope’s stance against homosexuality, abortion and using condoms to fight AIDS marched peacefully from Hyde Park to Downing Street, the major protest of Benedict’s controversial four-day state visit.

They carried banners reading: “The pope is wrong — put a condom on” and “Pope protects pedophile priests.”

Later Saturday, though, an estimated 80,000 people massed in Hyde Park cheering the pope as he celebrated an evening vigil.

The Vatican statement was similar to ones it issued after Benedict met with abuse victims over the past two years while visiting the United States, Australia and Malta. But continued revelations of abuse — the latest in Belgium — have failed to placate critics demanding that the pope and other Vatican officials take personal responsibility and crack down on bishops who covered up abuses by their clerics.

For the first time, Benedict also met with a group of professionals and volunteers who work to safeguard children and young people in church environments, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters.

Bill Kilgallon, chairman of Britain’s National Catholic Safeguarding Commission who helped organize the meeting, told the BBC that the victims got “something between 30 and 40 minutes.”

Asked if the victims were angry, he said: “No, I wouldn’t say they were angry. I think there is anger in them … But anger can be very constructive if they work for change.”

The sex abuse scandal has clouded Benedict’s state visit to this deeply secular nation with a centuries-old history of anti-Catholic sentiment. Polls have indicated widespread dissatisfaction in Britain with the way Benedict has handled the crisis, with Catholics nearly as critical of him as the rest of the population.

Anger over the scandal runs high in Britain in part because of the enormous scale of the abuse in neighboring Ireland, where government reports have detailed systematic abuse of children at church-run schools and cover-up by church authorities.

During a Mass in Westminster Cathedral earlier Saturday, Benedict said he hoped the church’s humiliation would help victims heal and help the church purify itself and renew its commitment to educating the young.

His comments, which were in line with his previous statements on the topic, were directed at Britain’s Catholic community in the seat of the English church, a sign that Benedict wanted to speak to the faithful about the humiliation they all felt as Catholics.

“I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives,” Benedict said in his homily.

He acknowledged the shame and humiliation all the faithful had suffered as a result of the scandal and said he hoped “this chastisement will contribute to the healing of the victims, the purification of the church and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people.”

Martin Brown, 34, who was in the crowd outside the cathedral, termed it “a good apology.”

“He seemed to really mean it; he was genuinely sorry,” Brown said. “It’s good he mentioned it and it’s good he didn’t dwell on it for too long. He got it just about right.”

The meeting with victims, part of a series of moves that began when he issued an apology during a meeting with reporters on his plane from Rome, took place near the famous tennis stadium in Wimbledon, a 30-minute ride on London’s Underground from the protest march route from Hyde Park to Downing Street, near the British prime minister’s residence.

Organizers said nearly 20,000 people — twice the number expected — took part. Scotland Yard took the unusual step of declining to put a figure on the crowd, saying it lacked manpower to make such an estimate.

Many wore rainbow-colored clothes or waved gay pride flags. Some members of the crowd bounced inflated condoms back and forth across the route.

Demonstrators largely focused their anger on the church’s attitude toward the child abuse scandal. Richard Erson, a 40-year-old Londoner, said he was there “to protest the hatred of the pope and his church toward homosexuals and to protest the ignorance of abundant child abuse within the church.”

Cornelius Crowley, a 65-year-old from Ireland, said: “I’m a Catholic school survivor of physical and psychological abuse. I hope people will open their hearts to the issue.”

Still, the protest was peaceful.

Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, faced a violent protest in Utrecht, the Netherlands in 1985 involving about 1,000 to 1,500 young people.

Benedict began his day by meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, and other British leaders. The pope offered his condolences to Cameron following the death of his father, Lombardi said.

On Friday, Benedict’s visit had been overshadowed by the arrest of six men suspected of plotting an attack on the pontiff.

But Scotland Yard said Saturday that searches of premises connected with the men had not turned up anything in the way of weapons or explosives, and later said all of the men were released by early Sunday.

On Sunday, on his last day in Britain, Benedict is scheduled to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, a 19th century convert from Anglicanism whom the pope wants to hold up as a model for the faithful.

—  John Wright