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David Nelson / Society

'Ajax' Sets the Stage for Theater Party

September 11, 1986|DAVID NELSON

LA JOLLA — The journey from a stage dripping in simulated blood to a party area bathed in genuine champagne is a difficult transition to make, even for seasoned socialites.

But just such a wild leap in moods was required of the 250 guests invited by the AT&T Performing Arts Festival to first watch Saturday's performance of the La Jolla Playhouse's production of "Ajax," and then ascend to the theater's deck for a sumptuous supper party.

The theatergoers drove up to the playhouse under cover of one of those dank, dark, chilly skies for which La Jolla is famous--or infamous. And although the theater lobby shone bright and warm, the play--director Peter Sellars' modern adaptation of Sophocles' dark Golden Age classic--lived up to its description as a harrowing piece demanding every ounce of the audience's attention.

At play's end, the audience applauded through three curtain calls and then headed directly for the food and drink on the theater's upper deck. There, the playgoers shifted emotional gears, with smiles and laughter replacing pensive looks. (One observer asked, pointedly, "Would you describe this as a lot of nervous giggling?)

AT&T, under whose patronage Sellars first introduced his "Ajax" at the American National Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., proved to be a most generous host. White pavilions sheltered the open-air deck from potential night mists, but were open at the sides to admit the mildest of breezes. Somerset Caterers provided all manner of elegant tidbits, including a nouvelle Latin buffet that featured seafood tamales and roast tenderloin of beef en chipotle, which the guests enjoyed at tables draped in red and black.

The scene offered more interesting vignettes and moments than does the average social occasion, but then, this was hardly the typical event. There was, as one guest noted, a breath of Manhattan in the air, a moody scent compounded of such diverse elements as the serious souls who stood about discussing the performance, and the jovial types who danced to the lively jazz played down on the ground floor terrace. Most of the cast joined the party, and it proved a fascinating study in contrasts to watch the happy, animated gestures of actor Howie Seago; on stage, in the title role, Seago dredged up as large a cargo of human misery as one could ever wish to see.

Sellars, clad in his trademark kimono jacket, ascended to the party rather late, having paused on a ground-floor bench to carry on a lengthy discussion of the performance with actress Aleta Mitchell, who played the role of the goddess Athena.

One special guest was Kennedy Center development director Gillian Poole, who glowed with pleasure at the end of the performance and declared herself even more entranced by "Ajax" than when she first saw it in Washington.

The crowd also included playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff, whose pre-performance wish for the audience ("I hope you are riveted by this production") proved to be an understatement. Playhouse angel Mandell Weiss attended the performance and party, and spent a bit of time chatting with Old Globe Theatre angel Helen Edison.

Other partygoers were Rita Bronowski, Dorothy and Harry Johnston, Kenneth Rearwin, Renee and Charles Taubman, Robert and Carol Randolph Caplan, Carol Stamp with Charles Campbell, Mary Rand Williams with Ted Graham, George Gafford, Colette and Ivor Royston, Barbara and Charles Arledge, Susanne Angelucci, Joan and Irwin Jacobs, Eileen and Willard VanderLaan, Molly and Arthur Wagner, and playhouse managing director Alan Levey and his wife, Leslie (The evening marked the couple's fifth anniversary.).

SAN DIEGO--One might say that on Friday, Betty Alexander gave the raspberry to 600 of her fellow patrons of the arts.

But she did it in the sweetest of ways, dishing up a dessert called "Betty's Bountiful Berry Mousse" at the end of the meal that was the centerpiece of a fashion luncheon titled "You Light Up My Life."

The luncheon was the eighth edition of the annual "Salute to COMBO" fund-raiser given by the Starlight Society of the San Diego Civic Light Opera Assn. Held in the ballroom of the La Jolla Marriott Hotel, the event played a variation on the theme established by the first "Salute to COMBO," a format so successful that it would take a daring chairman indeed to tamper with it.

As always, the show invited the participation of the numerous fine arts and performing arts organizations that share in the fiscal pie baked annually by the COMBO fund-raising foundation.

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