IN JULY 1966 A CULTURAL icon was born—in Canyon, of all places. A few years earlier, some Amarilloans looking to boost interest in their corner of the state got in touch with the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green. Would he please whip up one of his trademark outdoor musical dramas? Green obligingly penned a script chronicling the Panhandle’s pioneer past and named it, simply, Texas. The epic—with its cowman-versus-farmer conflicts, nods to pre-Anglo natives, and singing and dancing and flag waving—was a smashing success. It wasn’t the most genius or highfalutin theater, but it did tap into a Texan’s most valuable possession: his state pride. That it was performed in the stunning Palo Duro Canyon State Park—home of the second-largest canyon in the nation, thank you very much—didn’t hurt either.
But what’s a Texas icon if not a little rough around the edges? Like the Alamo and the Dallas Cowboys , Texas was in for bumpy times. After 36 summers, the cliché theatrics had grown tired, and ticket sales had slumped. So in 2002 the play’s producer, the Texas Panhandle Heritage Association, began tinkering with the script in an attempt to reexcite the locals. Not so thrilled were the folks at the Paul Green Foundation, who balked at the changes, and, well, all hell broke loose. Cue lawsuit. Cue countersuit. Meanwhile, some show had to go on. Enter Texas Legacies, stage right. But this new play, with its somber themes and historical precision, was more wrong than right, alternately bumming out and boring a still-dwindling audience. (Apparently, factual accuracy does not a more exciting musical make.)
So now, ladies and gentlemen, all the way back from the cutting room floor … the original Texas! Yes—the script war ended (the TPHA came away with all rights), the good people of Canyon clamored, and the musical has returned in all its refulgent hokeyness. Guided by an “if it ain’t broke, just tweak it a little bit” philosophy, new artistic director David Yirak did some minor line editing this year to get the whole shebang to just at two hours, but he otherwise left well enough alone. Fort Worth dance master Bruce Wood is choreographing the singing-and-dancing vignettes, but rest assured that it’s still a grassroots gig, with local talent well outnumbering “furiners” in the cast of sixty.
Now, with a third generation taking to Texas, the revival is on. From the half pound of brisket you get during the pre-show barbecue to the first act’s simulated t-storm complete with lightning bolt to the grand six-flags-and-fireworks finale, everything here is straight from the Go Big or Stay Home school of thought. Stereotypes are played up to great effect, sometimes intentionally (there’s lots of clogging and two-stepping), sometimes not (tourists have mistakenly snapped photos of locals in cowboy garb). Unbelievably corny it is. But even the most hardened cowpoke will have trouble staving off unabashed patriotism when a lone rider unfurls a large Texas flag as his steed races atop the stunning backdrop, a six-hundred-foot-high sandstone ridge, just as the sun sets. It’s a wistful reminder of the state’s wild roots, and it’s what makes Texas Texan. Of course, who qualifies as a Texan … well, that’s a whole ’nother article. Jun 2– Aug 19. Pioneer Amphitheatre, Palo Duro Canyon State Park, 12 miles east of Canyon on TX Hwy 217; 806-655-2181; texas-show.com JORDAN BREAL
If You Build It, They Will Come
Every summer top Houston-area architects, engineers, and contractors gather for an intense design competition. In a mere five hours’ time, teams must erect a structure in a plot about the size of a two-car garage. To win requires near-mechanical efficiency and Zen-like concentration. Even a minor crumble could send competitors tumbling out of contention for the much-coveted top prize, the Golden Bucket. The Golden what? That’s right. Each June, about 2,500 building brainiacs, not to mention 20,000 onlookers, flood East Beach to battle it out in the hotly contested (and just plain hot) AIA Sandcastle Competition. Using high-tech tools—motorized water pumps, scaffolding—the pros sculpt their allotted ten cubic yards into intricate tableaux. Scenes range from the comical (a “sandbar” featuring an octopus bartender and an overserved starfish) to the abstract (a giant sphere with surrounding ripples); eight themed categories, including “most lifelike” and “most complex,” ensure that anything goes. This year, in honor of the contest’s twentieth anniversary, all past champs will be given prime real estate on the half-mile stretch of beachfront to compete for the Legends of Sandcastle award. Of course, for all the hard work, the results are impermanent: By the following evening, bulldozers will have wiped the canvas clean for next year. Jun 3. East Beach, 1923 Boddecker Dr, 713-520-0155, aiasandcastle.com
A Perfect Marriage
“The Art and Architecture of Anstis and Victor Lundy” is an exquisite his-and-hers exhibit currently up at Ballroom Marfa, that hip gallery with dance-hall roots on the town’s main drag. He is a renowned architect best known for his modernist churches, low-slung buildings, and open, light-filled spaces. She is a late-blooming artist who didn’t start creating her vibrant, large-scale watercolors until she was in her fifties. Here, their creative genius collides with a collage-like survey of Victor’s blueprints, models, charcoal drawings, and crisp photographs of completed structures and 23 of Anstis’s densely colored, stare-inducing still lifes (her minutely detailed crushed cans and slices of toast are surreally real). Viewing the couple’s oeuvre is an intriguing exercise in comparison; attempts to pinpoint similar themes or shared techniques are irresistible.
Through Jul 30. 108 E. San Antonio, 432-729-3600, ballroommarfa.org
A Leather-Bound Favorite
Although best-selling novelist Amy Tan’s latest offering, Saving Fish From Drowning, has been on bookshelves since last fall, it seems all anyone wants to talk about is the band she’s in. Maybe it’s because the pseudogroup, the Rock Bottom Remainders, is a mishmash of famous writers: Stephen King, Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Scott Turow. Or maybe it’s because Tan prowls the stage in full dominatrix regalia, cat-o’-nine-tails