Jody Johnston Davidson wanted to set the record straight on the Laguna Moulton Playhouse.
"Community theater has this 'Let's all go watch Uncle Henry do King Lear!' image," she said with a laugh on Friday night at a benefit for the theater's $2-million expansion campaign.
"But not the Moulton. It has tremendous quality. It's not at all patronizing."
Davidson, general manager of the playhouse (and daughter of late comedienne Totie Fields), was among about 200 guests attending "An Evening Just Off Broadway," an auction/buffet staged on Laguna's lush Moss Point. The sprawling promontory is owned by playhouse supporters Andrew and Constance Morthland.
"Having joined the Moulton in August," Davidson said, "I've been able to see her with new eyes. She's like everybody's aunt, someone everybody thinks is wonderful, someone they love very much, but someone they don't think about a lot. I want to bring her excitement--make her everybody's lover, someone they think about all of the time."
Before enjoying the buffet and voice auction presented in a voluminous tent erected on the Morthland tennis court, guests--many swaddled in full-length mink (and wishing it were colder outside)--ambled among silent auction items displayed on Moss Point's rambling patio and scribbled bids, nursed cocktails and nibbled at vended hot pretzels.
Stud service by Davidson's dappled clumber (spaniel), named Baryshnikov--a $500 value--was among items on the silent auction block. "I'm not so sure he's enjoying (this)," said guest Dick Billings, trying for a peek at the caged spaniel. "He looks sad. But I guess that's the way clumbers look naturally."
If guests weren't engaged in auction-item chitchat, much of it laced with giggles about the "vasectomy with follow-up treatment" donated by Dr. Sheldon Lippe, they were bubbling about the Moulton's coup: The Orange County premiere on April 18 of "The Belle of Amherst" starring Julie Harris.
"We're very excited about it," said Ed Gazich, chairman of the theater's Just Off-Broadway auxiliary, a group organized to support the creation of a series of contemporary plays. "In fact, I helped write and produce 'Amherst.' Julie would have come tonight, but she's busy doing 'Bronte' (in Los Angeles)."
Gazich said the Moulton had "wonderful theater, great theater" citing productions like "The Music Man" and "The Sly Fox." "But what we need next," he said, "is a rehearsal hall so we can also produce plays that are more avant-garde.
"Now, the stage is either being used for rehearsal or it's in production. With a rehearsal hall, we'll be able to have a forum to use new directors, writers, young actors and actresses. Meaning, that while 'The Music Man' is on stage, we can be getting ready to plunk a new cast into the playhouse when it's over.
"A play about growing up black in South Africa, for example. A play about the American Indian. A comedy we couldn't do, because, well, maybe it was a little too sexy for a 'Music Man' audience."
Seeks "Total Spectrum"
Gazich wants to bring the Moulton a "total spectrum," he said, searching for "exactly the right phrase. Yes, a more total spectrum . . . something for everyone. Now it caters to a certain audience. Not the newer, younger, racier kind of person."
Moulton volunteers Norm and Trudy Grossman, a madcap duo, put it another way: "The audience at the Moulton has always been a sea of blue hair; we're trying to raise money for a sea of not-so-blue hair."
The Grossmans confessed that they volunteer-usher because they "get in free once every play," they chimed.
"We show people their seats, uh, show people to their seats . . . when they let us," Trudy Grossman said. "People have been coming to the Moulton for so long they won't let you do anything for them. They say, 'No. No. No. We know where we're sitting.' "
Grossman rented a ruby-red-lined black cape for the benefit. But he spent most of the evening pouting. "Here I am . . . trying to look elegant," he moaned. "And everyone thinks I'm Dracula."
One of the benefit's highest bids was made by Dr. Richard L. McCoy. For $3,000 he'll enjoy two weeks in the Morthlands' posh London apartment.
Net proceeds were estimated at $21,000.
Lynwood Wilder was volunteer auctioneer. The benefit committee included director Maureen La Bonte, Glenda Haggenmaker, Pat Kollenda, Dr. Ira Levine, Barbara Painter, Rick Plomgren, Gerry Scully and Doug Self.
Douglas Rowe is the Moulton's artistic director. Karyn Rohrer is director of development.