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3-HOUR TOUR

Center Yourself, Feast Your Eyes and Taste Success

November 10, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to The Times Orange County Edition.

Near South Coast Plaza, where the dollar is king, you can get your money's worth when it comes to the arts. And your time's really well spent--as on a tour of the Orange County Performing Arts Center and self-guided Town Center art walk--when you don't have to spend a cent.

10 to 11 a.m.: Docent-guided tours of the Performing Arts Center bring the facility center stage. And they bring you, at least briefly, backstage.

Some features of the building--such as the red, gold and silver "Firebird" sculpture "flying" out through the facade's five stories of glass--always seem new. But even those who often attend center performances may find that behind the curtain of familiarity hides a multitude of overlooked features and little-known facts.

Did you know the granite out front is called "Napoleon red"? Or that the seats are "theater red," primarily because they don't reflect light back to the performers? Did you also know there's a basketball court backstage for the stagehands?

Look carefully at the carpet on the grand staircase and you'll notice that the first and last step of each flight are solid colors, the rest dotted; it's a safety feature. And there's a metal people catcher over the side of the balcony at the bottom of the Tier One steps for people who keep walking.

You'll learn all about acoustics on the tour. The hall was designed with "early lateral sound reflection" in mind, which, according to docents, means that sound bounces off the side walls early enough so that it reaches both ears at the same time. The shape of the seating "trays," or tiers, combines the best of "fan" and "shoe-box" theaters--acoustically speaking.

You'll also learn all about pipe battens and counterweights and how scenery is "flown" up above the stage; there's a gridiron 10 stories high for storage. There's also a tunnel that runs from the sound booth at the rear of Tier One all the way backstage so the technician can run back and forth without disturbing anybody. Hey, maybe David Copperfield used that.

11 to noon: More than a dozen sculptures dot Town Center. Those in lobbies are visible even when the buildings are closed.

Between the Performing Arts Center and Center Tower (650 Town Center Drive), where even the bushes are carefully sculpted, is Henry Moore's "Reclining Figure," the enjoyment of which is marred only by the distracting donor plaque. Nearby you can look down on the Center Club (how's that for a switch?). There are sculptures in the ponds below. Perched in the Center Tower lobby is a bronze by Joan Miro called "Oiseau," which means bird in French; to the uninitiated, it may also resemble a triceratops nursing twins.

I like rocks, so Jim Huntington's "Night Shift" (near Westin South Coast Plaza hotel), made from Sierra white granite and stainless steel, is very appealing. Alexander Calder's mobile "Pekin" (in the lobby of 611 Anton Blvd.) would be fabulous in any child's bedroom. Charles Perry's seven-ton, bright yellow "Ram" looked, well, ram-like.

Isamu Noguchi's endlessly stimulating and soothing "California Scenario" is a plaza unto itself, truly one of the jewels of Orange County and easily the crown jewel in this collection.

Depending on your pace, you can also take a few minutes to cross Bristol Street on Unity Bridge, possibly named because it unifies two sets of Segerstrom properties. Once on the other side, pop into South Coast Plaza's Laguna Art Museum satellite and buy blown-glass teapots or such artsy mementos of your tour as Joan Miro coffee mugs.

Noon to 1: Claire Falkenstein's stained-glass wind screen, "Sun Ribbon," protects Amici Trattoria Italiana from the elements. The restaurant is also kind of artsy inside. Providing a nod to the visual arts are tubes of oil paint, paintbrushes and an artist's palette. In tribute to the performing arts are a violin, mandolin, guitar, sheet music, painted tambourine, trombone and trumpet, and comedian/tragedian masks. Even the culinary arts get into the act--hanging garlic cloves and wine bottles line the windows.

I wouldn't call the insalate de mare art exactly, but it's pretty, and the baby calamari almost look like little flowers on the plate (seafood salad, $8.95). Crostini di polenta, served with either mushrooms or olive-stuffed squid, is only on the dinner menu, but a (highly recommended) request for either at lunchtime will be honored ($6.95). In fact, the chefs will make any Italian dish you request as long as they have the ingredients .

Tartufo amore ($4.50) is heart-shaped white chocolate ice cream with a heart of raspberry sorbet within. Amici serves 18 kinds of grappa, an Italian brandy, any one of which could quickly put you under the table.

3-HOUR TOUR

1. Orange County Performing Arts Center

600 Town Center Drive

(714) 556-2122, Ext. 833

Tours are Mondays, Wednesdays and first Saturday of each month at 10 and 11 a.m. Phone to confirm dates.

2. South Coast Plaza Town Center Art Works

Between Park Center Drive and Avenue of the Arts, adjacent to Town Center Drive and Anton Boulevard. (Free maps at South Coast Plaza concierge desk.)

3. Amici Trattoria Italiana

655 Anton Blvd.

(714) 850-9399

Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Open for dinner Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight.

PARKING

Parking: There is ample pay or validated parking in lots at each location.

Buses: OCTA bus 57 runs north and south along Bristol Street with a stop at Town Center Drive, and buses 74, 53, and 55 stop at Sunflower Avenue and Bristol.

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