Notes from Underground
So much has been made of Houston’s recent efforts to beautify its landscape with the introduction of parks and bike paths that an architectural wonder underneath the city was almost overlooked: an 87,500-square-foot reservoir featuring 221 25-foot-tall concrete columns.
The Cistern, as it’s being billed, is a visual, man-made marvel—one the public will be able to experience beginning Friday—but the realization of its grandeur was totally happenstance. Back in 2010, the City of Houston was sourcing vendors to demolish the reservoir, built in 1926 for drinking water and decommissioned in 2007 due to an irreparable leak. At the same time, Buffalo Bayou Partnership was developing its $58 million Buffalo Bayou Park “Shepherd to Sabine” project. The goal was to build an open-air event space atop the reservoir site to take advantage of the spectacular view of downtown, with maybe some parking underground or at least a storage area for mulch. “It wasn’t until Buffalo Bayou Park’s project consultants climbed down the cistern’s hatches to observe the space did they discover what had been sitting below,” said Anne Olson, President of Buffalo Bayou Partnership. Realizing the structure needed to be preserved, other agencies joined the effort and repurposed the cistern into a public space and host for temporary art installations.
The unveiling and continued operation of the cistern marks an exclusive experience. “Of course, there are underground reservoirs around the U.S., but none, to our knowledge, that have been decommissioned and then opened to the public,” Olson said. “Many of those who have visited have likened it to the Basilica Cisterns in Istanbul—underground—and Hypostyle Hall in Egypt—aboveground.”
If the picture above seems too ominous to take up a docent on a 30-minute tour, you can view the cistern from another vantage point. The New York artist Donald Lipski’s piece Down Periscope rests above the cistern and allows visitors to view below through a periscope. But if you do go down, make sure to yell. It’s worth seeing if you can break the record for the longest recorded echo measured in the cistern: 17 seconds.
Buffalo Bayou Park, May 13, buffalobayou.org
The topic of immigration in the U.S. is so politically charged that it’s easy to get lost in the rhetoric and forget about the human lives on the line. To put a face on this narrative, the Dallas Theater Center has collaborated with Cara Mía, a Dallas theater group that has been interpreting the Latino experience since 1996, to create a three-part play that delves into the experience of a subset of immigrants called “dreamers.”
In the first installment, Dreamers: A Bloodline, which premiered in 2013, the audience was introduced to protagonist Javier Mejía, an undocumented baby brought to the U.S. from El Salvador, who came into the custody of his grandmother after his mom was killed by narcos. In Deferred Action, the second installment, onstage through this weekend, Mejía has grown into an exemplary young man—the class valedictorian and a college student—though his continued status as an illegal immigrant thrusts him to the forefront of a national conversation. The production takes its name from “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” an immigration policy put into place in 2012 by the Secretary of Homeland Security, allowing illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children under 16 years old—“dreamers” under President Obama’s DREAM Act—to file for a two-year work permit and exemption from deportation, subject to renewal.
The playwrights, David Lozano and Lee Trull, aren’t subtle in their questioning of why Congress hasn’t passed immigration reform to allow these dreamers outright immunity. As Theater Jones, a North Texas performing arts publication, wrote of the production: “Nobody walks out untouched. This play has muscle.”
AT&T Performing Arts Center, May 13-14, dallastheatercenter.org
The Devil’s Work
There are only two confirmed photos of Robert Johnson, the deeply influential Delta bluesman who, the story goes, sold his soul to the devil for the ability to sing and play guitar. There are perhaps a couple more photos if you believe in the authenticity of the recently unearthed ones that purportedly feature Johnson but have been questioned by scholars. Little visual evidence combined with a lot of legend has allowed Johnson to remain a mystery. In the exhibit “Cross Road San Antonio Robert Johnson The Blues,” Steven G. Smith, a San Antonio painter known for his portraits of musicians and other curious characters, offers his interpretations.
Johnson died at 27 (part of the myth surrounding him is that a girlfriend poisoned him and while he was dying a talent scout was seeking him out to play Carnegie Hall). Before his death Johnson participated in two recording sessions, one in San Antonio in 1936 and another in Dallas in 1937. Smith’s oil paintings seek to reimagine the San Antonio one, occurring at the Gunter Hotel, where Johnson recorded “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Cross Road Blues,” among others. “I hope to convey a sense of place to the viewer and enable them to experience that place through the paintings,” Smith said in his artist statement.
3rd Space Art Gallery, May 14-31, arttothethirdpower.com
Back in the Saddle
The Trappings of Texas, an exhibit and sale of western art and cowboy gear, was first organized in the eighties by Gary Dunshee, co-owner of Big Bend Saddlery, for the purpose of community-building and trick-trading among a small, West Texas saddle-making industry undercut by the introduction of a low-cost mass manufacturer. Art, poetry, and music grew out of their confab to make the affair the full-blown event that it is today. The month-long exhibit and sale, now in its thirtieth year, concludes this weekend. Choose from works by roughly seventy artists, like official artist Teal Blake, a cowboy from Saint Jo, who illustrated the cover of Thomas McGuane’s book of essays Some Horses.
Museum of the Big Bend, May 13-15, museumofthebigbend.com
Lights! Camera! Waxahachie!
With The Crossroads of Texas Film Festival, Waxahachie is building on its movie history as the filming location for famous eighties-era dramas like Tender Mercies, Places in the Heart, and The Trip to Bountiful, with screenings of movies relevant to the state as a whole. This year that includes Selena, Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, True Stories, and Tin Cup, peppered throughout with music from Texans including Joe Ely, Jack Ingram, and Bruce Robison.
Various locations, May 18-21, crossroadsoftxff.com
Now that MLB pitcher Roger Clemens is retired, he has been known to pitch underhand, or at least he will at Reckless Kelly’s Celebrity Softball Jam, a fundraiser for area little leagues, with athletes and non-athletic media types trying not to look foolish amid live music from a dozen acts including Shinyribs, Kelley Mickwee, and the Reckless Kelly side project Mickey & the Motorcars.
Dell Diamond, May 15, 1 p.m., rkcsj.org