Palazzo
Hey, we know the difference between goths and Satan-worshipers. After all, the goths may look ghoulish, but we never see them at Black Mass, taking up a collection while we're doing the hard work of sacrificing a virgin. Sheesh! Still, one look at Steven Rogers' glorious new space Palazzo on a Friday night, when he unveils the Goth-Romance-Trance nightclub Tranzylvania, and you know Our Dark Lord Beelzebub must be hard at work somewhere. One part Queen of the Damned, one part Merovingian's "Hel Club" from The Matrix Revolutions, Palazzo itself is all travertine floors, gargoyles, and half-nekkid sphinxes. There's a huge bar of carved wood and black marble, and a second-story, New Orleans-style catwalk from which the VIPs can monitor the frenzied moves of the dancers below. Tranzylvania's clubbers come decked out in everything from leather bustiers to Vampira-style makeup, and at midnight the black lights go on, turning the chandelier purple, and illuminating previously hidden murals of erotic escapades and Dante-esque scenes of roasting sinners. Hey, if hell's gonna be this much fun, where do we sign up?
No, they don't have a buffet. But if there's a club in P-town that really should have a buffet for its patrons, Club FullFilled is the one. Club FullFilled is the Valley's premier plus-size event, held weekly at rotating locales -- usually a bar or club -- where Big Beautiful Women (BBWs) and Big Handsome Men (BHMs) can shake as much flab as they want and not feel self-conscious about it. Say it loud, these plump party animals are fat and proud, and they have a number of beanpole Fat Admirers (FAs) who love them just the way they are. But we ain't dissin' 'em. Let's face it, the average American these days is the size of a small Zeppelin, which accounts for why we all ride gas-guzzling SUV behemoths and why trendsetters come up with genius ideas like diets made up of all meat. But we digress. Point is, big is in, and thin is so Third World, so '80s. So grab a drink, and squeeze in next to the hefty honeys or hunks of your choosing. And while you're at it, pass the pretzels, dawg. We're starving.
Contrary to popular belief, some pretty happening things got their start in Phoenix -- like the chimichanga (reputedly), Steven Spielberg, and, dare we say it, the New Times chain. But the coolest thing to come out of this town in a long time is First Fiction, the authors' tour created by Cindy Dach, marketing guru for Changing Hands Bookstore. A few years back, Dach noticed that David Sedaris had suddenly made the memoir mesmerizing, but no one, it seemed, was hip to the whole fiction thing. Dach came up with the idea of bringing together several first-time fiction authors to read short excerpts, for one night. The key to success: cheap drinks.

First Fiction was born. It was such a smash hit, on its 2003 debut at the outdoor patio at Monti's La Casa Vieja in downtown Tempe (including a reading by Nell Freudenberger, that year's It Girl of the fiction world), that Dach had requests to expand First Fiction outside Arizona.

So she took the authors on the road. Last fall, five debut novelists (including Joshua Braff, brother of Zach, whose New Jersey-set coming-of-age tale The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green is an amazing companion piece to Zach's Garden State) ended a six-city tour at Monti's in Tempe, laughing and joking and acting like teenagers who'd just returned from summer camp together. It was standing room only; the authors felt like rock stars. A tour this spring skipped the Valley, but in October, First Fiction starts in New York City and winds up back at Monti's, this time with three female authors whose work includes a fictitious take on the life of Rudyard Kipling.

We can't resist saying that this was a novel idea. And we're glad First Fiction can call the Valley home.

Modest Proposal Presents is the place to see a rotating cast of young, creative, totally off-the-wall talent doing sketch and standup comedy. And did we mention that it's only five bucks? Hey, that's no joke.

We gotta say, we didn't think it was funny at all when Ron Babcock and Ryan McKee, the dynamic duo behind the Modest Proposal mother ship -- which encompasses a magazine, short films, and a music night as well as this Third Saturday comedy showcase at the Paper Heart -- fled Phoenix for the L.A. scene. We certainly don't begrudge their career opportunities, but it's still nice to know that they've kept their ongoing comedy gig intact -- in downtown Phoenix.

Fetishism used to be "underground," and the only glimpse the general public got of the fetish community at play came from movies and TV shows. But TNG (The Next Generation of Fetish & Kink in Arizona), along with local body modification outfit Horns 'n Halos, has brought several fetish events to the Valley and left them open for anybody who was willing to wear some vinyl pants for a few hours. The AZ Fetish Balls have included musical acts like N-17, My Darling Murder, and The Year, as well as flesh-hook suspension demos, strippers, spanking demos, and leather vendors galore. But the biggest fetish shebang, the AZ Fetish Ball, takes place on Saturday, October 8, at The Sets, and this year, Florida's vaunted fetish/metal band the Genitorturers and national act Combi Christ will rock the stage, proving that no matter how hard-core these fetish balls are, Arizona will keep raising the bar.
Margaret T. Hance Park
Phoenix's Margaret T. Hance Park, affectionately known as Deck Park because the Interstate 10 tunnel through central Phoenix is under it, would truly be a beautiful and serene respite from downtown, except for one thing. Try walking though it on a bright Sunday afternoon, and you'll see what we mean. On a recent hike to the Safeway on Seventh Street and McDowell Road from our digs at Central and Roosevelt, we were hit up by at least three young men begging to sell us crack cocaine, or whatever other illegal delight we desired. When we demurred, choosing instead to buy our drugs in the restroom of our favorite Scottsdale nightclub, one alleged dealer followed us all the way to the liquor aisle of said grocery store. The only way we were able to get rid of him was by threatening to hold him down and pour generic Safeway tequila down his throat. On several other treks through the Deck Park, similar events occurred. One persistent dealer even followed us back from the grocery to the Phoenix Police Department substation at the base of our building. After he was finally deterred by a burly cop peering out the window at him, the salesman looked back over his shoulder at us and inquired, "What's a white boy doing walking through the park if he don't wanna buy drugs?" He added that we were the first such individual that week who'd turned him down.
The first time we stumbled upon Raymond Shaw and his weekly, televised distance-learning class, we thought we were watching a Mad TV sketch. Shaw's teaching techniques were so delightfully bumbling, so very way out there, that we couldn't believe that Arizona State University -- or the man himself -- could possibly be serious.

Au contraire! Shaw's three-hour-long Dance in the Movies was the real thing, even if it never -- even for a single minute -- got around to teaching anything about dance. Or the movies. Or dance in the movies. Although we watched faithfully, week after week, Shaw never once discussed Rogers and Astaire; never uttered the names "Hermes Pan" or "Gower Champion" or even "Gene Kelly." There were hourlong discussions about how to turn in a term paper, and endless screenings of the most excruciating "student films" ever seen, and repeated references to something called "the male gaze." But nothing about the evolution of the MGM musical or Busby Berkeley's influential Golddiggers films.

Our favorite moments include the time Shaw had a guest speaker, a profoundly effeminate baldy who muttered for two hours about Marxism and sexism but who -- because this is Dance in the Movies! -- never got around to talking about choreography or the cinema. And then there was the single occasion that Shaw mentioned a movie musical and got all the facts wrong, claiming that West Side Story was a stage musical based on the movie and starring somebody named "Chita Moreno."

Sadly, we'll never see the likes of this sort of sidesplitting bon mot again, as Shaw's show was canceled after a single 13-week season, leaving us to watch ASU-TV also-rans like Learning Math and Essential Science, neither of which is as fun as Dance in the Movies, but both of which are nearly as enlightening about the art of dance on film.

Stray Cat Theatre
We've been attending theater in this town for longer than we care to tell you, and if there's one thing we've learned, it's that smallish companies tend to either vanish after a couple of seasons or wind up doing crap to keep their doors open. Not so with Stray Cat Theatre, whose mission seems to be taking big risks with dicey, often untried material, and the hell with ticket sales. How else to explain its choice to do something called Poona the Fuckdog, a fable about, well, a fuckdog? And then there was [sic], a difficult, talky little dramedy that--thanks to superb performances and expert direction--turned up a smash. And while the kids at Stray Cat had a near-miss with Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, it was a production dotted with fine acting, and followed up by the excellent Stop Kiss, a spotty drama that these young thespians pulled off with hardly a hitch, ending Stray Cat's season on a high. Hats off to this stalwart company's casts and crews, who rarely disappoint us, and whose new work we're looking forward to this season.
The point here is that you would never even realize that Autumn Court, one of Phoenix's venerable Chinese eateries, even has a bar, so tucked away is this cozy gin mill at the back of the place. But we made a wrong turn on the way to the restroom after an early dinner and noticed the charming saloon, with tables along the walls and the large bar in the middle. We also noticed several couples, heads turned toward the shadows and holding hands, engrossed in deep conversation at the tables. Our mind naturally went into the gutter; what a great place to meet a lover who's not your husband or wife for a quick round of drinks before you know what! Trust us, nobody you know (unless they read this item, of course) would ever guess your whereabouts when you're late getting home from the office.

BEST LITTLE THEATER THAT COULDN'T, DARN IT

TheatreScape

They gave it a go, but, sadly, TheatreScape -- like so many little local troupes before them -- folded halfway through their second season. Too bad, because these folks pulled off a couple of smart, skillful programs while they were around. Although they're gone, we're still talking about their letter-perfect Eleemosynary from two seasons ago, and about how, even when TheatreScape turned out a dud, it always contained at least one amazing performance. Like Dion Johnson's in the title role in The Elephant Man, or John Sankovich's as a greedy meany in Glengarry Glen Ross. Farewell, TheatreScape, and thanks for the memories.

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