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Her 'Search' soiree

June 01, 2003|Leslee Komaiko | Special to The Times

After the opening-night performance of Lily Tomlin's "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" at the Ahmanson Theatre May 21, about 300 anointed audience members -- mostly FOLs (friends of Lily), FOFOLs (friends of friends of Lily) and Center Theatre Group bigwigs -- strolled across the plaza to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for an after-party and Lily love fest in the dramatic second-floor Grand Hall.

Attendees were greeted at the top of the stairs by tuxedoed waiters bearing silver trays of tomato-soup shooters surrounding cans of Campbell's tomato soup, a playful reference to the play's Warhol-inspired "soup or art" question.

A few people made a beeline for the buffet tables to load up on vegetable spring rolls and apricot and chicken filo triangles from the Patina Group. Others headed for the sweets: fresh strawberries, mini eclairs, frosted brownies.

A small crowd of well-wishers encircled actress Camryn Manheim, who had learned only days before that she, unlike several of her "Practice" co-stars, would still have a place on the TV courtroom drama.

Off to one side of the room, Tomlin's fellow "Laugh-In" alums Henry Gibson, looking dapper in a navy sport jacket, and Jo Anne Worley, in her trademark false eyelashes and perfectly horizontal bangs, visited with friends.

"Wasn't she brilliant?" cheered Worley. "The way she titillates your brain.... The last time I saw the show was at the Huntington Hartford in Hollywood [now the Doolittle], which is a smaller theater than this one. But I don't think it made a bit of difference. It filled the theater to every corner."

"She just keeps getting better and better," echoed "Laugh-In" executive producer George Schlatter, sporting a gray goatee. "You see her and say, 'Wow, I've now experienced the best in theater.' "

Despite a jammin' mix of soul and disco hits spun by DJ John Kale, the crowd was decidedly mellow. Then again, it was 11 o'clock on a school night. The mood lifted at 11:30 when Kale asked the sleepy revelers to put their hands together and "show some love" as Tomlin entered the room with her longtime partner and the play's writer and director, Jane Wagner, as well as Center Theatre Group Artistic Director and producer Gordon Davidson.

A chorus of "fabulouses" could be heard as Tomlin moved through the crowd. There was even a little dancing, spearheaded by 10-year-old Ruby McCollister (daughter of the show's general manager, Frier McCollister) and her chaperon, Katie Orr, gallery director at Storyopolis.

Alas, Toni Basil, whom MTV junkies might recall from her turn as a cheerleader in her "Mickey" video, kept both feet firmly on the ground.

By 12:15 a.m. the number of guests and waiters was nearly equal. Tomlin sat down with a plate of appetizers, the show's bookkeeper to her left.

"Especially at this time," said Tomlin, "with what's going on in the world, ["The Search"] seems as relevant as ever. It's about the human condition and the huge, disparate humanity, and how they're all connected -- the oneness of the species."

As for the praise she had been receiving all evening from friends and strangers alike?

"It's very comforting," she said, turning to sign a program. "It's very reassuring."

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