Community spirit and cooperation are hallmarks of East Dallas, and Deep Ellum is no exception. Nightclubs, restaurants, art galleries and stylish, site-specific retail stores work together to keep their unique neighborhood thriving, while simultaneously monitoring growth and direction.

Perhaps more than any single element in determining the area’s flavor is the cluster of young, experimental theaters calling Deep Ellum home. Popular restaurant and nightclub strips, such as those on Lower and Upper Greenville and in the West End, have harbored a theater group from time to time, but Deep Ellum lures more actors and keeps them longer.

Theater, in turn, provides a provocative, intellectual atmosphere – a daring-do and playfulness spilling into nearby coffee houses and nightclubs as poetry readings and performance artists, as ethnic bands and revealing street fashion.

Theater companies range from Pegasus Theater’s astonishing black-and-white spoofs of ’40s movies to Undermain’s critically acclaimed productions of leading modern dramatists.

Schedules vary, but most groups run productions Wednesdays through Saturdays, with tickets ranging from pay-what-you-can-night to $12. It’s best to call around in advance and select from an always-surprising menu of plays.

Classic Theatre Company (747-6407), 2301 Canton, critically hailed for director Janet Farrow’s stylized Shakespeare – among other classic works – produced a brilliant “Hamlet” in its first season. Now in its third, the company is staging “Taming of the Shrew” through May 16.

Hickory Street Annex Theater Coalition is four companies – all about a year old – sharing the former Deep Ellum Theatre Garage performance space at 501 Second Avenue at Hickory. “We split the rent, and somebody’s always doing something,” says Thomas Latham, artistic director of Genesis Theater (827-5128), focusing on “original works or adaptations of great works”. Genesis’ next show is “Crapp’s Last Tape” in July.

Currently onstage is Moonstruck Theatre’s (522-0843) artistic director Bruce Coleman in “Sideshow”, a one-man multimedia show about a band of circus freaks. On May 29, Moonstruck opens Emily Mann’s “Execution of Justice”, a drama about a highly publicized 1978 San Francisco murder.

Deep Ellum Opera Theatre (521-8156), says director Gately Matthews, is doing “progressive opera” and musical productions with “top-notch singers working in the English language in a smaller space and charging $12”. Good audiences and critical praise precede the company’s planned September production of “The Old Maid and the Thief”.

Phoenix Company (528-4725), says director Ann Klousia, is interested in great European plays, but “does not confine itself to a conventional sensibility”. Upcoming in September is Marquez’ “Love in the Time of Cholera”.

Kitchen Dog Theater’s (824-4539), production of David Mamet’s “The Woods” will run May 7-30 at Elm Street Theater, 3202 Elm. Director John Morgan says the year-and-a-half-old company is interested in “intellectually challenging plays that ask questions about human life and society”.

Pegasus Theatre (821-6005), 3919 Main at Washington, is seven years old and “serious about comedy”, says director Kurt Kleinmann. Onstage through May 23 is “The Bermuda Musical Triangle”, by Kleinmann and Edwin Wald. The show is a send-up of ’50s cruises, music and science – featuring a leggy chorus line and a talking toilet.

Undermain Theatre (748-8457), 3200 Main, is the eight-year-old matriarch of Deep Ellum Theatre. Co-directors Raphael Perry and Kathering Owens, and their company, attract audiences from throughout the City to their award-winning basement theater productions. Having closed Mamet’s “The Poet and the Rent” in April, they’ll open the fall season with a play newly rewritten for them by Erik Ehn.

Arts Calendar

May 1 (extended) – Hall of State at Fair Park presents the Smithsonian exhibit, “Field to Factory”, recalling Deep Ellum blues from the 1915-1940 era. Free. Call 421-4500.

May 1-23 – The Gryphon Players at the Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther, present Moliere’s “The Misanthrope”. Tickets are $8-$12. Call 526-1158.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.