SAN DIEGO — Among the various substrata of our society, the Ohlooks certainly are one of the more jovial groups.
Surfacing mostly at night and recognizable for their bent for fine clothes and superior vintages, the Ohlooks, like certain avian species (such as the bobwhite), have gained their name through onomatopoeia; they are named for the distinctive sound they make.
The Ohlooks were in full voice Saturday at the thoroughly jolly gala--given at the former Hotel Inter-Continental, now another bead in the Marriott chain's necklace--that celebrated the 40th anniversary and fifth contemporary season of the La Jolla Playhouse.
How to spot one of the many Ohlooks, who paid up to $500 a couple, in the crowd of 300 guests? It was easy; one only had to listen for the telltale sound. Individual voices quickly became a chorus as a slew of actors at times associated with the theater strolled into the hotel's Tea Lounge.
"Ohlook! There's Howard Duff!" intoned the voices, characteristically rising on the third syllable. "Ohlook, there's Roddy McDowell!" "Ohlook, there's Jane Wyatt!" "Ohlook, Guy Madison (the other great TV cowboy star of the 1950s) is talking to Don DeFore!" "Ohlook! Michael Constantine and Cliff Robertson just walked in!"
A Grand Night
Indeed, it was a grand night for Ohlooks, and for playhouse patrons in general, because few ever had been in a room that contained such a high proportion of stars and almost-stars to regular (so to speak) folks.
Without question the best and absolutely dandiest fund-raiser ever given for the benefit of the La Jolla Playhouse (it was profitable, too, raising in excess of $55,000), the 40th Anniversary Gala swept its patrons away with a brilliantly orchestrated program of star-gazing, dining and entertainment. Neatly divided into three acts (billed by the program as "The Cocktail Hour," "Dinner at Eight" and "As You Like It," a cabaret of great style), the party whisked its guests from frolic to frolic and kept them out past 1 a.m., a relatively late hour for the high society side of San Diego.
In addition to a full carload of thespians who have appeared in playhouse productions dating from 1947 to the present, party chairman Marie Olesen and co-chair Anne Otterson dished up a many-course meal orchestrated by chefs from seven of the county's leading restaurants and caterers, as well as the new executive chef at the hotel. During the cocktail hour, guests dallied at the caviar bar set up by Gustaf Anders' Ulf Strandberg, wolfed down stuffed mussels whipped up by La Gran Tapa's Deborah McDonald Schneider, and took a fancy to the fancy pot-stickers with "mahogany" sauce offered by caterer John Baylin.
The excitement built steadily through the cocktail hour, with playhouse principals looking--and sounding--especially pleased about the proceedings. Theater Director Des McAnuff, asked to reflect on his reign, said, "There probably always are moments of doubt when you're running an institutional theater, but I knew that the community would respond to us, and that we have had five successful years does not surprise me. We've had national attention since our first season, and I couldn't be more pleased having come to San Diego. And tonight, which brings together the old Playhouse and the new Playhouse, is wonderful."
Birthday a Milestone
Playhouse managing director Alan Levey said, "It's a milestone for any performing arts institution to attain 40 years of history, especially one that didn't produce for 19 years and then came back from obscurity to accomplish all that it has. To be able to celebrate with people who were part of the Playhouse 10, 20 and 40 years ago gives us a great sense of fulfillment."
To some guests, the evening was not merely fulfilling, but actually filling. One guest, spying the hors d'oeuvres tables, gleefully chortled, "All we have to do tonight is eat!" Her observation was true, but not quite--after the five-course meal served in the hotel's bayside pavilion dining room, the guests descended to the Corniche Lounge for a clever, bouncy cabaret directed by John Schimmel, who played bass-guitar in the 1986 Playhouse production of the cowboy rock opera, "Gillette."
The meal floated lissomely from course to course, beginning with a wild asparagus soup prepared by George's at the Cove's Scott Meskan and continuing with a stir-fried duck salad (by the hotel's Yuki Iijima); salmon braised in champagne (from the Rancho Bernardo Inn's Jacques Cornelis); roast veal loin in two sauces (prepared by Martin Woesle of Mille Fleurs), and a dessert of chocolate pot de creme from Will Howard of Issimo/The Pasta Place.