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Sunday, September 15, 2019 — Houston, TX 78°

Farrah Madanay


NEWS 4/4/13 7:00pm

Wiess Tabletop's The Producers delivers laughs

Wiess College Tabletop has returned with a fun new theatre production. The Producers is a bold satirical comedy that pokes fun at Nazis, gays, foreigners and New Yorkers with blatant stereotype personas packaged in costumes, accents and antics.Mel Brooks' The Producers features Max Bialystock (Wiess freshman Eric Stone), the former "King of Broadway," whose latest productions have flopped. Down on his luck and money, Max prostitutes himself out to rich old ladies who pay him checks made out to cash to support his upcoming plays. When the mousy yet towering accountant Leo Bloom (Duncan College junior David Dalton) arrives to audit Max's finances, Leo discovers a scheme in which a producer can inconspicuously pocket money from a Broadway flop. Max and Leo decide to put Leo's plan into practice by producing the worst musical they can find: Springtime for Hitler. Recruiting the worst playwright, director, choreographer and actors for their new musical, Max and Leo draw the curtains and wait to become rich and infamous.Overall, the musical is entertaining, albeit nearly three hours long. Director Daniel Burns' carefully picked cast members are all caricatures of stereotyped personalities: the still fervently loyal former Nazi, the svelte and hypersexualized Swedish dame, the overdramatic crossdressing gay director. The leads have commanding stage presences and are supported by a versatile ensemble. Stone's at once cocky and insecure persona is apparent in his mischievous grins beneath his bowler hat, relaxed willingness to hop-clop and sleep his way to fortune, and impassioned solo "Betrayal." Though pitchy and mechanical in his arm movements, his charisma and facial expressions carry the role.The maturation of Dalton's character is enjoyable to watch. Dalton's portrayal of the spineless Leo, who still uses a baby blanket, is awkward but fitting. His missteps while dancing with the showgirls in "I Wanna Be a Producer," whether deliberate or not, are adorably suitable of the bumbling anxiety-ridden character. As Leo grows into his own, so does Dalton. He by far has the most impressive voice in the troupe, and as he becomes more assertive, he loses the distracting idiosyncrasy of fixing his bangs and becomes more likable. Most of the slapstick, ironic and pun-filled comedy comes from former Nazi Franz Liebkind (Jones College freshman John Hagele) and from flamboyantly gay Roger Debris (Brown College freshman Gabriel Wang) and his partner Carmen Ghia (Wiess freshman Sean Doyle). Though relative newcomers to Rice college theater, all three actors hold their own in their stereotypical roles. Hagele prances around, eagerly yelling "heil Hitler" in lederhosen and a German military hat. His German accent coupled with his enthusiasm make him a delight to watch on stage. Wang and Doyle, with their eyeshadow and V-necks - and at one point a dress - become increasingly more ridiculous and campy. Wang acts with all the stereotypically expected hand gestures and eye rolls, but often momentarily breaks character or fails to fully engage with the other actors on stage. In "When You've Got It, Flaunt It," Duncan sophomore Laurel Bingman best sums up her character Ulla in the verse, "Don't be shy, be bold and cute." Bingman can belt as well as convincingly play the role of the sweet and sexy Ulla, complete with Swedish accent and endearing difficulty understanding English expressions. The rest of the ensemble cast is slightly less polished. It is apparent who does not remember the dance moves, and the chorus of voices is more often than not drowned out by the orchestra.The orchestra is decent, with a particularly good trumpet section. Unfortunately, as the show drags on, the energy and tight rhythm of the orchestra also lags. The plain set allows the crew to seamlessly transfer furniture on and off the stage. Unfortunately, set design missed the mark on both a macro and micro scale. The white rectangular patches of wall set against an otherwise all-black background are stylistically jarring and unnecessary. Additionally, the portraits of Max's "investors" could have just as easily been photographs of the actual actresses in the cast, or at least of older women. Costuming is spot-on 1950s, and each outfit matches the character and the scene appropriately. I particularly appreciated the obnoxious floral-patterned dresses of the old women and the fabulous ensembles of Roger's crew of choreographers. I also was at once entertained and disturbed by Roger's dress and shrug and by how many Nazi uniforms and swastika-laden pieces of apparel the production staff was able to drudge up. Lighting and sound are neither impactful nor distracting, though it is off-putting to hear whispering from the actors backstage through their microphones connected to the speakers.Though the production could benefit from a couple more weeks of rehearsals, the light-hearted parody is amusing and worth attending if you have three hours to spare. When else will you have the opportunity to laugh at your classmates as they hop-clop, can-can and salute a gay Hitler?


NEWS 3/7/13 6:00pm

Strong acting makes Merchant of Venice a success

Last year's Baker Shakespeare cast and crew failed to impress in The Winter's Tale with both poor enunciation and technical execution. This year, under the command of Haley Cooper, who co-directed 2011's Hamlet, the cast and crew bid adieu to the execution flaws of yesteryear. Cooper and company tackle the Bard's controversial yet comedic play The Merchant of Venice in the 44th annual production of Baker Shake. Judeo-Christian tensions flare, and revenge and mercy take center stage in this three-hour production.


NEWS 2/20/13 6:00pm

Allison Hunter, Uniting Art and Nature

There is an elephant in the room in the BioScience Research Collaborative, and it cannot be ignored. Actually, there are several elephants, and they are featured in "Untitled (elephants 1 & 2)," as part of Humanities Artist in Residence Allison Hunter's photography exhibition. On Feb. 13, Rice University Public Art hosted a reception for Hunter in the first-floor lobby BRC pop-up gallery. 


NEWS 2/14/13 6:00pm

Restaurants deliver country food to Houston

Steal away into the Texas Hill Country without leaving Houston. The creek group, Onion Creek, Cedar Creek, Dry Creek and Canyon Creek, is a family of four restaurants with transparent country folk pride. In the past two weeks, I ventured into two of the four, Onion Creek and Cedar Creek, to escape the city smog and Fondren Library lights.Located in the Heights, sharing the neighborhood with Fitzgerald's and several open-air bars and restaurants, is Onion Creek, the original creek cafe. Beyond the patio seating, which wraps around from the entrance to one side of the cafe, is the indoor seating and order counter. On the wall behind the hybrid order counter and bar, rows of beer bottles sit atop shelves laced with Christmas lights. Neon-lit beer company signs hang alongside painted, wooden city signposts, Animal House posters and deer heads. In contrast to the elaborately decorated walls, the seating is simple and cozy.Outside, cigarette smoke furled over parties of people squeezed knee-to-knee on wooden bench tables as they shared buckets of Shiner's. Inside, patrons watched ESPN from couches and booth seating, while a couple slid into the stool seats of an appropriated Pac-Man machine. A circular table with a solitary burning candle beckoned my friend and me to sit near a dormant hearth. The waiter brought us our starter, chips with salsa, queso and guacamole. At a steep price of $12, we thought the portion would be able to feed a party of four, but the dips came in small bowls, and the two of us finished most of the chips before our dinner arrived 10 minutes later. Of the three dips, the salsa was the best, with a crisp bite of spice. The guacamole was comparable in taste to Baker College kitchen guacamole, and the cheese was of the same consistency and taste as the nacho cheese pumped onto chips at a baseball game.Onion Creek offers a breakfast menu and a lunch and dinner menu. In addition to chip-based starters, there are the standard hummus and spinach-artichoke dips and the not-so-standard fried pickles. More substantial plates include salads, sandwiches (cutely called sammiches) and country backyard barbecue favorites: Frito pies, hot dogs, burgers and pizza.While Onion Creek keeps some dishes simple, like the Frito pies, it creatively deviates from the basic ingredients of others, such as the pizzas. One gourmet innovation is the Italian goat ciabatta bread pizza, an artisan ciabatta stacked with a conglomeration of pesto, Italian sausage, goat cheese, artichoke hearts and spinach. The pizza was savory, a little greasy and hard to put down in one sitting. We also tried the brewhouse dog, which, to my dismay, had to be served atop a far-too-thick bun of soft white bread rather than a pretzel bun because Onion Creek was out. The pretzel bun would have better complemented the Munich-inspired beef hot dog with grilled onions and spicy ale mustard, but with the white bun, it fell short of top dog.After peeling one slice of havarti cheese off the Big Nasty Burger, which also contained grilled onions, crimini mushrooms, applewood bacon, horseradish mayonnaise and barbecue sauce, the burger was delicious. Onion Creek justifiably cooked its onions right: soft but not soggy. The mayonnaise and barbecue sauce seeped into the medium-rare burger, and the sweet challah bread balanced the pungent hint of horseradish.Farther north in the Heights, hidden within a nondescript residential neighborhood, Cedar Creek made me feel like I had stumbled upon a patio bar in Luckenbach, Texas. The restaurant sits atop a hill surrounded by a trickling creek and is accessible by a short, wooden footbridge. Trees shorn of their leaves in winter hold up criss-crossed lines of large, bulbed white Christmas lights. Beer advertisements scatter the walls of the patio and plants hang from the awnings. Past the fire pit encircled with logs is the cafe bar and grill. The interior echoes that of Onion Creek, with beer bottles lining the counter wall and a heterogeneous mix of dining furniture.Outside, a trio of men, all sporting cowboy boots, kicked back with cold beers, and a pair of women enjoyed glasses of wine while their children played around the creek. Whereas the diners at Onion Creek were mainly groups of friends in their mid-20s and 30s, the patrons of Cedar Creek included more families with young children.My friend and I ordered at the counter, indulging in beer and burgers. Cedar Creek, akin to Onion Creek, offers a breakfast menu as well as a lunch and dinner menu. The "Cedar Creek Fixins" lunch and dinner menu is as large as Onion Creek's but focused less on making simple food gourmet and more on showcasing country and Tex-Mex flavor. Dishes here include starters like the battered fried jalapenos and fried mushrooms with buttermilk ranch sauce. The menu also offers a host of shareable baskets (finger food), such as the jumbo Gulf Coast shrimp basket with cole slaw, Texas toast, fries and tartar sauce, and quesadillas, like the "Down Home" with spinach, mushrooms, grilled onions and red bell peppers. Compared to Onion Creek, where Cedar Creek has downsized in hot dogs and pizza, it has expanded in its offerings of burgers. The menu includes Angus beef burgers ($3 extra for a buffalo patty substitute), bird burgers (chicken and turkey) and meatless burgers.Outside, on a slightly unstable metal table with mismatched lawn chairs, we tried the Hill Country Burger with a side of onion rings and the 'Bello Burger with a cup of fruit. The Hill Country Burger is Cedar Creek's house burger, a fresh ground beef patty decked with lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickle. The standard toppings played second fiddle to the char-grilled medium-rare burger supported in a thick challah bread bun. A nod to both the big-as-your-face Texas portions and the original creek cafe's eponymous speciality vegetable, large golden-battered onion annuli filled half the plate and reached a height taller than the burger. Thin, crisp ring shells enclosed but did not disguise the sharp onion taste.I made the mistake of trying to cut the 'Bello Burger, a portobello mushroom topped with goat cheese, tomato, onion, lettuce and sweet pesto mayonnaise, in half. The challah bread crumbled under the pressure of the goat cheese-laden mushroom, and the contents of the delicate burger toppled across the plate. Otherwise, the burger, chosen with a side of subpar fruit (melons and pineapple), was a gummy mix of meatless goodness, oozing with tomato and highlighted by detectable, though not overpowering, pesto and goat cheese flavors.Onion Creek beats Cedar Creek in its varied menu options, proximity to Rice and more gregarious atmosphere, but Cedar Creek has that country folk charm in its quaint Hill Country decor, creekside seating and unhurried staff members who you hope will say "y'all come back now" before you traverse the bridge and return to the paved parking lot of the city.


NEWS 1/31/13 6:00pm

Phamily Bites adds island flair to food truck fare

I am not ashamed to say it: I like spam. Though I have grown to appreciate Texas' crawfish tails, chicken fried steak and turkey legs, my distance from the Aloha state has induced a furious craving for the spam and eggs breakfast plate from McDonald's; spam, chili and rice from beach potlucks; and spam musubis (fried spam atop a block of rice and wrapped in nori dried seaweed) from mom's kitchen. When I first read "classic spam musubi, $3" on Phamily Bites' menu, I had three immediate reactions: 1) Is this real life? 2) This is the world's best food truck; and 3) Phamily Bites better not mess up the spam musubi; it is already a stigmatized snack and does not need another blow to its delicious ego.



SPORTS 10/24/12 7:00pm

Rugby wraps up preseason and prepares for a promising year ahead

The Rice Rugby Football Club will play its first regular season game tomorrow at 2 p.m. against Texas State University. Though only the season opener, captain Agha Nkama said he thinks the game will be a good indicator of who will win the league championship."I look forward to the game against Texas State because it practically determines who's going to win the league," Nkama said. "It looks like we're the favorites, and I'm looking forward to success."Last year, the rugby team finished second in the Southwest Conference to the University of Texas. This year, the Owls are favored to win the Division I-AA conference championships since UT has since moved up to Division I-A. However, the rugby men are not taking this season for granted. In addition to practicing on Tuesdays and Thursdays like last year, the team has added Monday and Wednesday morning runs and conditioning to its regimen.The true test of the team's fitness will come tomorrow as the team expects to beat the only other team, after UT, that beat the Owls last year. "Last year, we weren't prepared physically so we ended up losing [to Texas State]," Rugby President Shaun Haby said. "Now, we have stepped up our training, and I think it shows."Not only have the Owls trained harder this year, but they have also, for the first time in Rice rugby history, prepared for the regular season by participating in the 7s (7 men on each side) preseason in an effort to gain extra practice entering the year.  Despite finishing as the seventh overall seed after playing in two round-robin tournaments, the Owls are optimistic about their upcoming 15s (15 men on each side) season."7s wasn't too kind to us, but 15s is what we've always done, so it should be our bread and butter," Haby said. "We didn't lose too many guys from last year, so we should have a strong team."Nkame, who has been in the rugby club since his freshman year and played on the team that went to Division II national championship two years ago, said this team looks like it has the most potential since he joined it."We have strong senior and junior classes that make up all the starters," Nkame said.Haby, who spent the past summer playing rugby in New Zealand, he said he wants to end his career on a high note by winning the conference championship and going to nationals. Though Rice lost to Texas State in the 7s conference championship tournament earlier this year, Nkame and Haby have confidence that their strong returning roster will play to win.