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Even When Not in Rome

Annual South Coast Repertory Gala Lets Party-Goers Do as the Romans Did

September 21, 2000|ANN CONWAY

All social roads led to Rome when South Coast Repertory staged its annual black-tie gala on Saturday.

The Roman Affair-themed launch of Orange County's society season featured everything from muses making surprise appearances during the al fresco cocktail reception to gala chairwoman Barbara Roberts opening her remarks to guests with, "Buona sera, friends, Romans and countrymen."

It was that kind of night.

Everywhere guests looked, they beheld the Romanesque. The walls of the ballroom at the Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa were decorated with projections of colorful scenes from the Eternal City. Pedestals topped with images of Roman gods and goddesses--sculpted in wax by SCR artisans--rimmed the room. Dining tables were crowned with olive branches and terra-cotta chargers. Even the rectangular dance floor was lit to resemble a glittering Roman reflecting pool.

Dressed in a plaid taffeta gown, Roberts gave 400 guests a tongue-in-cheek lesson in Roman history: "It was Nero who set Rome on fire, and, you know, it was probably the first time they had lighting," she quipped. He was also the emperor who unleashed lions onto "Christians in the Colosseum," she added. "It was quite the popular affair--fortunately, SCR does not do things like that."

Arts benefactor and Broadcom founder Henry T. Nicholas eschewed the black-tie mandate and dressed as a gladiator--right down to his plumed helmet--for the event. "Hail! Hail!" he said, greeting table-mates who included arts activists Barbara and Mark Johnson.

The Johnsons chose to come in formal clothing that might have been worn by members of Roman society in the first century.

"We really wanted to reflect the spirit of the event," said Barbara Johnson, dressed in a flowing white gown trimmed in gold.

"When in Rome," Mark Johnson deadpanned.

No sooner were guests seated at tables draped in terra-cotta-toned cloths, than they dug into olive tapenade and rustic Italian bread. Then, along with river of Robert Mondavi wine, came a four-course feast Nero himself would have relished: aged prosciutto with figs and melon; squid ink risotto with calamari, octopus and baby clams; a trio of lamb, breast of squab and chicken sausage; and chocolate columns laced with a kumquat and cranberry sauce.

Proceeds of about $270,000 were earmarked for SCR's Annual Fund. "We've sold every table for this event," SCR board president Paul Folino told guests. "Thank you for the great support."

Also on the scene: Martin Benson; David Emmes; Bill Roberts; Stacey Nicholas; Dee and Larry Higby; Elaine and Martin Weinberg; Marsha and Darrel Anderson; Donna Collett; Joyce and Tom Tucker; Jean and Tim Weiss; Andrew and Olivia Johnson; Ellen and Edmund Olivier; and John and David Kensey.

Pacific Craft Show

More than 2,000 people streamed into the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach over the weekend to attend the Wells Fargo Pacific Craft Show.

On view were hand-crafted art objects made of glass, ceramic, wood, metal and fiber by more than 50 artisans.

"This event was a real community outreach for the museum," said Janice Johnson, who co-chaired the show with Nancy Snyder. "Many of the people who came were seeing the museum for the first time."

More than 700 guests attended last Thursday night's preview party that honored glass sculptor Howard Ben Tre. "I find transcendence in art," said Ben Tre, whose works will be exhibited at the museum in February. "I look forward to seeing some of my pieces here in this fine museum."

Fire Bird Dinner

Donors of at least $25,000 during the past year to the Orange County Performing Arts Center were honored at the inaugural Fire Bird dinner on Monday.

Sponsored by the center's board of directors and held under the distinctive Fire Bird sculpture, the dinner, underwritten by Tiffany & Co., featured an awards program and a tribute to the late arts-activist Renee Segerstrom.

Among those singled out for donating $100,000 to the center: Nora Hester of the Hester Family Foundation; Barbara and Mark Johnson; Sherry and Parker Kennedy; Gail and Roger Kirwan; Susan and Henry Samueli; Terry and George Schreyer; Heidi and Nick Shahrestany; and Karen and Steve Tsubota.

About 180 guests dined on Chilean sea bass and chocolate mousse, presented with a white chocolate wafer embellished with an image of the Fire Bird.

The affair was emceed by center chairman Roger Kirwan.

Of Renee Segerstrom, who co-chaired the center's 10th anniversary gala in 1996 with her husband, Henry--and who named the Fire Bird--Kirwan said: "We salute her; we will miss her and we will never forget her."


Ann Conway can be reached at (714) 966-5952 or by e-mail at

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