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Metropolis / So SoCal

Where the Password Is an Arty Witticism

September 15, 2002|VICTORIA NAMKUNG

Who says there's no cul-cha in Hollywood? Locals whose idea of creative foment goes beyond tanning salon sessions, Scientology meetings and the occasional actor's showcase can drop in at Smart Gals Speakeasy, a monthly "semi-literary salon with a literal twist," complete with author guest hosts, secret passwords and a rotating mystery theme.

After gaining entry by giving the evening's password (open sesames have included "Dead man's curve is no place to play" and "What's the dizzle my nizzle?"), Speakeasy participants glean clues to the night's theme from parlor games such as "passing the orange" or "Foreign or Domestic?" a quiz on the origins of notables such as Pamela Anderson and Langston Hughes. Sample salon themes: "Sunset Boulevard" or "Hot Under the Collar." At one recent Speakeasy, guests received name tags featuring such monikers as David Koresh, Drew Barrymore, Rae Dawn Chong and Joan of Arc. What theme could possibly tie these folks together? "They were all incendiary," says Speakeasy founder Christine Louise Berry, a writer and performance artist who works at Dutton's Brentwood Bookstore and Skylight Books in Los Feliz and meets many of the Speakeasy's guest hosts while on the job.

Berry arrived in Los Angeles 10 years ago after studying performing arts at UC San Diego. She landed bit parts in Hollywood flicks but decided to focus on Smart Gals, her nonprofit arts organization whose performance series "Are You Interested?" has produced a Labor Day show in an El Segundo machine shop and an April 15 Taxation show in an empty bank. Berry dreamed up the Speakeasy in 2001 to offer L.A. a more informal arts experience and held the first evening in February of this year. "I was tired of creating for the same people in the isolated world of art venues," she says.

Each Speakeasy spotlights a guest visual artist such as Billy Vasquez or Ronit Kirchman, who designs a collectible $10 bookmark for the event (the price includes drinks for the evening). Along with local artists, musicians and authors, Berry says, the series draws a lively mix of participants, from retired folks to psychiatrists to moms. "It's a little bit lowbrow sometimes," she says. "But it's introducing people to local artists in a friendly environment.''

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Smart Gals Speakeasy is held on the last Sunday of each month at A Room of One's Own, 6545 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; (310) 572-7347. Current passwords are available at www.smartgals.org.

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