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David Nelson / Society

Old Globe Crowd Not Shy About Getting In On the Act at Celebrity Gala

September 17, 1987|DAVID NELSON

SAN DIEGO — Arbutis, the actress-waitress who patrols Sea World's City Streets attraction dispensing Texas witticisms and homely advice, was on the prowl again Saturday, this time with a tray of hors d'oeuvres that she energetically thrust upon passers-by.

"Try some of these howers doovers," she urged one and all. "They're on me." But they weren't really, you know--they were on the tray.

It seemed that everybody at the "Stars and Streets" gala wanted to get in the act, which wasn't terribly surprising, given the fact that this was the Old Globe Theatre's annual dinner dance and celebrity blowout.

In what a sociologist might (if really pressed) interpret as "the party as theater," the theatricality actually began well before the sunset cocktail hour. Sometime around noon, the gala committee started to harmonize on "Stormy Weather," not as an invocation to the zephyrs, but in recognition of the nasty black clouds blowing in from the west. Since the activities all were scheduled al fresco--cocktails on the acre-sized United States map recently installed by Sea World, and the rest in City Streets--rain or high winds would have scuttled months of planning.

'A Study in Flexibility'

"This has been a real study in flexibility and developing alternative plans, because that's all we did this afternoon," said gala chairman Katy Dessent. Oddly enough, the possibility of uncooperative weather had been foreseen for some months and was expressed in the form of the patrons' gifts--collapsible umbrellas--that hung from the backs of the chairs at the higher-priced tables.

The worst-case scenario called for moving the party into the Sea World Pavilion, but all that proved necessary was to shift the cocktail reception from the map to City Streets, surrounded by high walls that cut the pesky breeze to a mere whisper. Some guests came prepared, especially one well-known regular on the party circuit who confided that her extravagant gown concealed a full set of thermal underwear.

Early in the proceedings, the 350 guests began to realize that they had become unwitting actors in a semi-scripted work-in-progress co-written by the Old Globe and the actor-denizens of City Streets. For example, one never knew when one might be engaged in a debate about the merits of Sicilian-style pizza by Candi Apples, the Brooklyn-bred cosmetologist who carried a mannequin's head under her arm and occasionally conversed with it . And men sometimes were whirled onto the dance floor by Sister Prudence, which was a little confusing to some of them because a real nun, Sister Sally Furay, was present in her role as president of the Old Globe board.

Just before the orchestra sounded the figurative dinner gong, Globe Artistic Director Jack O'Brien blew in with the contingent of celebrities he had rounded up for the evening. They were apportioned among patrons' tables, their names having been drawn at a pre-party held in August, and O'Brien found himself happily paired with actress Marsha Mason at a table that also included major performing arts sponsors Darlene and Don Shiley, and former Globe President Dixie Unruh and her husband, Ken.

Veterans of Globe Stage

Most of the celebrities have appeared on the Globe stage, among them Beth Howland, star of 1985's "The Torchbearers"; actor Robert Hays; playwright Stephen Metcalfe, whose "Emily," which premiered at the Globe in 1986, will open on Broadway early next year, and actor Robert Foxworth, star of this summer's "Antony and Cleopatra." (Foxworth amused tablemates Andrew Chitiea and Dan and Pat Derbes by donning Evelyn Truitt's deep purple feather boa when the band swung into "Celebration." He took it off quickly enough, though, so that he could lead his wife, actress Elizabeth Montgomery, to the dance floor.)

Globe regular Paxton Whitehead and his wife, Kate, both had faraway looks in their eyes at times, probably because Paxton's new series, "Marblehead Manor," was to debut on NBC just two days later.

The unusual site--City Streets looks like an old Brooklyn neighborhood, right down to the subway entrances that formed iron islands in the sea of tables--inspired the party committee to a decor that went rather beyond the usual floral displays. Small trees, planted in sidewalk-style boxes, centered every table and became the focal points for groups of wooden cats that climbed in their branches, and wooden dogs that waited beneath. (The animals went home with guests, as did cat-shaped mugs donated by ceramist Tom Hatton, and bottles of champagne donated by Tawfiq and Richel Khoury.)

The dinner concluded (with a star-shaped meringue dessert) just in time for the cabaret performance by singer Amanda McBroom. Her offerings included one of her own compositions, "The Rose," which she sang in a compellingly melancholy voice that drew a cloak of thoughtful silence over the crowd.

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