Whoopee. You could hear it when it came over the loudspeaker in the form of the song (". . . Makin' Whoopee"), you could feel it in the crowd (half black tie, half no tie) that packed the Mark Taper Forum on Monday when the California Theatre Council held its 12th annual awards.
Award --in the singular--is more accurate. The Theatre Council, an organization that services about 300 nonprofit theaters throughout the West, honored that most singular of entertainers: the inimitable, unreconstructed and unprintable (at least in this family newspaper) Whoopi Goldberg.
The evening was part "This Is Your Life, Whoopi" and part John Meyer funning at the piano, with actor Rene Auberjonois and Goldberg's old friend Ellen Sebastian (artistic director of San Francisco's Life On the Water theater) serving as vivid and engaging emcees.
There were the expected surprises (friend and colleague Michael J. Fox), the unexpected ones (comedian Bob Goldthwait, her co-star in "Burglar") and the very unexpected ones (actress Judith Ivey, who made history when she introduced director Mike Nichols to Goldberg's work, and to Goldberg--a favor he repaid when he put Goldberg on Broadway).
There was a proclamation (from Mayor Tom Bradley), a designation (Jan. 18 as Whoopi Goldberg Day in Los Angeles, a day that City Councilman Joel Wachs, who did the designating, graciously extended to Jan. 19 so Goldberg "could have a little more time to enjoy it"), but above all there was Goldberg.
All of her. Or all of them. Standing there in her quarter-moon smile, fitful corn rows, orange scarf, black leather pants and a T-shirt that read "Free South Africa," Goldberg metamorphosed into a tempered version of her wigged out creation, Fontaine.
Together, they riffed through the world's dos and don'ts: politics, politicians, racial improprieties, critics, religion and its self-appointed scions ("Oral, are you giving the impression that God is an (expletive deleted) extortionist?"). Her triumphant ending: "Support your children who act. Support your actors. The theater you save may be your own."
In the cold light of the morning after, Theatre Council executive director Robert Holley estimated that about $40,000 was raised at Monday's celebration. These funds are earmarked for the council's new Rainbow Casting Project (partially underwritten by El Paso Natural Gas), an advocacy program and information clearing house for the encouragement of nontraditional casting. A symposium on the subject is planned by the council for April 22 and 23, paralleling another symposium in San Francisco April 15 and 16.
Meanwhile, Goldberg has postponed the national tour of her new stage show, "Living on the Edge of Chaos," in order to accept a role in "Homer & Eddie," a film to be directed by Andre Konchalovsky that starts shooting Feb. 1 in Los Angeles. She will, however, do two performances of the new show as a previously scheduled benefit for her alma mater: the San Diego Repertory Theatre, next Thursday and Jan. 29.
IONESCAPPEARANCE: Artist-playwright Eugene Ionesco, one of the world's most distinguished vagabonds, who has not made a local appearance since 1983, will be visiting these parts next month.
Ionesco, who will be making prior stops in Wyoming (as keynote speaker for the western regional conference of the American College Theatre Festival) and in Denver (at the Denver Center Theatre Company), has just published a new book. Hot off the presses at Gallimard is an account of his lifelong spiritual wanderings, "La Quete Intermittente" ("The Intermittent Quest"), which the author described over the phone from Paris as "a long interrupted talk--a search for the absolute, interrupted now and then by my literary preoccupations."
To honor the 76-year-old Ionesco and to raise money for Stages (the Hollywood theater that was launched with a Ionesco Festival in 1982), Stages artistic director Paul Verdier has planned a benefit Feb. 13, 8 p.m., at the Doolittle Theatre.
"An Evening with Eugene Ionesco" will indeed be just that, with the playwright (who may even be coaxed into talking with his audience) in attendance, and a series of excerpts from his books and plays to be read by actors, some of whom cut their dramatic teeth on such material as "The Bald Soprano," "Rhinoceros" or "The Chairs."
Among performers paying tribute to the playwright, alphabetically, will be Rene Auberjonois ("unless Bertolucci calls"), Bud Cort, Patty Duke, Joe Frank, Salome Jens, Nan Martin and Tom Waits.
A reception at the theater will follow the program. The evening is being presented under the auspices of the office of City Councilman Michael Woo, with the patronage of French Cultural Attache Alexandre Tolstoi.
Tax-deductible tickets are $35 for the theater portion of the event, $50 for the event and the reception. A limited number of tickets at $10 will be available for students and members of the acting unions. Information: (213) 462-3176 or 465-1010.