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THE ALTERNATIVES

Female bonding

What would you want on a Women's Night Out? Music, laughs, talk, wine? An answer man? They've got it.

June 10, 2004|Adam Tschorn | Special to The Times

Once a month, in a tiny upstairs restaurant/performance space on La Brea Avenue, two women are hosts of a no-host dinner party, a book club without books -- an event that feels like part coffee klatch and part Chardonnay-infused, NC-17 version of "The View," uniting guest speakers, authors, craft queens and sexperts for a night of food, fun and femininity.

This salon-meets-slumber party -- with intellectual discussion, music and comedy that occasionally reaches the fever pitch of a tent revival -- is called Women's Night Out. For almost two years, it has given women a chance to shed their husbands, ditch the kids and share an evening of camaraderie and highbrow conversation, albeit one that at any moment could take a detour into the realm of dating advice from an astronomer, alternative definitions of PMS and ethical dilemmas solved by a stand-up comic/Methodist minister.

"You never see women over 35 in public in Los Angeles," Women's Night Out co-founder and co-host Alicia Brandt says. "It's like they died. You don't even see them on the streets."

That's precisely why you will find thirtysomething women (as well as a good number of twenty- and fortysomethings) at the round of dinner, drinks and discourse. The nights began in September 2002, when Brandt and her longtime friend Brenda Varda realized there wasn't a place where women their age felt comfortable for an evening of fun, intelligent interaction. (Brandt, an actress, and Varda, who scores and composes music and acts, cop to being barely fortysomethings.)

"You get to a certain age where you don't want to wear tight clothes and impress a guy," Brandt says. "It's more like getting out of the house, having a few drinks, without feeling like you're trying to attract a man."

Varda describes it as a night out on the town for "time-crunch people." "Where you get a chance to laugh, to hear something serious, to hear some music, eat and drink all in one evening," she says.

Backed by a trio of male musicians known as the Toolbelts -- Mike Rainey on cello and bass, T.J. Welch on percussion and Michael Johnson on guitar -- the duo takes the predominantly (but by no means strictly) female audience on a 90-minute romp through book readings, movie reviews and musical guests. Varda sings and plays the keyboards, while Brandt cracks wise from her perch slightly stage left.

THE lineup varies from month to month, but each show usually consists of an author reading (actress Marcia Wallace will discuss her fight with breast cancer from her book "Don't Look Back, We're Not Going That Way" at Wednesday's show; last month Christie Mellor delivered tongue-in-cheek tales from "The Three-Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting"), a musical guest, a "women we love" segment and a demonstration from "craft mistress" Stacy McQueen. (Among the items from her craft closet: a duct tape purse, a holiday card made from pictures of grocery-store meats, slippers made from sanitary pads and a colorfully hand-decorated X-ray of her own rib cage.)

Other staples include "sex coach" Patti Britton, who matter-of-factly answers the audience's bedroom questions with the help of a large plush version of the female anatomy rarely seen outside a seventh-grade sex-ed class, and the Rev. Jane Voigts, a former stand-up comedian-turned-preacher who helps audience members sort through their ethical conundrums.

One of the most popular segments of the female-centric night is "Ask a Man," in which a male guest gives his perspective on anything asked by the audience. Past participants have included a fireman, a yoga instructor and the director of the Griffith Observatory.

At the last show, landscaper Brent Green counseled a woman on how to deal with a paramour who made unwelcome advances. ("Step aside, look him in the eye and say: 'Homey, don't play that way!' ")

At the end of the show, when the hosts pass the hat to take up a donation to defray the cost of the Toolbelts' tunesmithing, it's the only time (except when settling the dinner tab) that money changes hands; besides being a night of fun and friendship, it also happens to be free. "We wanted to get a bunch of women who were very different and very interesting to have a really good time -- we didn't want to charge them money," Brandt says. "That would be like charging money for your book group."

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Women's Night Out

Where: Room 5 Lounge (above Amalfi restaurant), 143 N. La Brea Ave., L.A.

When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: (323) 938-2504; www.womensnightout.info

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Viewpoints

In addition to an evening of entertainment, each installment of Women's Night Out inevitably ends up providing an array of oddball advice and insights. A few tidbits culled from the May show:

What it's like to be a mom

"I had a great Mother's Day. I found myself saying things I never thought I'd say, like 'Don't take a bath with a candy necklace on' and 'Don't lick the phone.' "

-- co-host Alicia Brandt

How to tell a good friend that her child acts like a monster

"The only time you can say something is if she opens up the opportunity. She won't ever hear it unless she's the one that's asking."

-- "Ethical Dilemmas"

guest Rev. Jane Voigts

What relationship advice a former "player" would give to his daughter

"Love yourself first and don't come from a place of desperation. Otherwise you'll settle."

-- "Ask a Man" guest Brent Green

What the word "woman" really means

"Wild, Open, Magical, Authentically Empowered, Nectar. That's the essence of what we are -- what we're trying to get to."

-- guest Gina Cloud of the Sacred Cycle

Another innovative use for duct tape

"Once when I was here I made duct tape purses and someone in the audience bought one for $25 and the handles fell off it ... so I brought some duct tape to fix it."

-- craft mistress Stacy McQueen

-- Adam Tschorn

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