Curtain Up--So Was Rep Crowd

Adrian Stewart, the very proper Scotsman who last year assumed duties as managing director of the San Diego Repertory Theatre, tiptoed cautiously through a verbal mine field when he described one of the racier divertissements on the bill at “Silver Screen,” the Rep’s first major New Year’s Eve gala.

“There will be a stripper, but the stripping will be genteel and polite and only to a tasteful level,” he said. “The dancer may display her navel, but that’s it.”

Stewart, who wore the Sutherland & Argyle dress kilt proper to his clan, proved correct when he predicted that the entertainment would be at the edge of the exotic, but no more.

“Silver Screen” teased its 150 guests neatly through the evening by offering mock assignations with starlets and nightclub acts that, though advertised as designed for women only and men only, merely hinted at the risque.


Nonetheless, party planner Norma Assam treated the Rep supporters to an event unique among San Diego fund-raisers. Given the limited scope of the guest list (invitations went out late for this first-in-an-annual-series event), the party featured an embarrassment of riches in the form of continuous entertainment in four locations. Guests gambled in a casino, listened to the Walter Fuller trio in the lower lobby, danced to Reactions on the main stage and returned repeatedly through the night to the Lyceum Space for cabaret acts that ranged from magicians to Chippendales-type male dancers.

Assam, who set the party’s Hollywood tone by turning out in platinum wig and plunging gold lame a la Mae West, predicted that the Rep’s New Year’s Eve parties will become a popular San Diego tradition.

“This party will grow year by year, and soon they’ll be fighting for tickets,” she said. “Nobody else can put on a party like this theater, with all the talents it has at its disposal.”

Rep producing director Sam Woodhouse said, in effect, that there’s no business like show business, especially when it comes to mounting a fund-raiser.

“Who else puts on benefits with non-stop entertainment in five rooms at the same time?” he asked. “We’re in the business of entertainment, and, when we give a party, we go overboard.”

The fifth of the rooms to which Woodhouse referred was one of the evening’s giddier jokes, a “starlet’s” dressing room to which men could be invited, at the instigation of friends who paid $5 to $20, for a less-than- dangereus liaison with an actress. The silliness of it was the photographer hidden behind a screen who snapped shots of the dressing room scenes and created illusions of scandals in the making. Ridiculous as it was, the idea was generally well-received.

Guests assembled in a cloud of dry ice fog for the obligatory midnight countdown, at which time a theater tour to London was raffled along with a host of lesser prizes. Guests then returned to the nonsense, which was nicely sustained until the curtain came down at 2 a.m.

The guest list included three of the six women whose support made them executive producers of the Rep’s mega-hit “Six Women With Brain Death, or Expiring Minds Want to Know.” With their spouses, these were Karen and Don Cohn, Sheri and Ben Kelts and Francie and Chris Mortenson. Among others in attendance were Donald and Linda Porter; Shirley and Angel Starv; Jennifer Mitchell; Sam Assam; Deni Vilaplana; Linnea and Frank Arrington; Rep board President Dottie Georgens and her husband, Hal; Carol and Ned Baumer; Junko and Larry Cushman; Becki and Ed Estess, and Deirdre and Michael Alpert.

Poinsettia Ball guests who took the elevator to the ballroom level at the San Diego Marriott were treated to a message on a digital monitor that flashed “Go Pokes, Beat Oklahoma State!”

“Pokes,” which undoubtedly is an abbreviation of “cowpokes” and evidently is the Wyoming nickname for University of Wyoming Cowboys, was useful in conversations in which distinctions had to be made between the UW Cowboys and their Holiday Bowl rivals (and ultimate conquerors), the Oklahoma State University Cowboys. The hotel adopted a nonpartisan stance by hanging banners over the bars that read “Go Cowboys!”

Almost all the guests at the Dec. 28 gala could feel comfortable in their neutrality, since the overwhelming majority of the 550 in attendance were San Diegans who came out to boost the city’s major annual sports contest. Wyoming’s delegation of two tables was headed by Gov. Mike Sullivan, who arrived in town several days earlier to promote his state as a tourist destination (who said sports and business don’t mix?). Oklahoma was represented by a single table headed by OSU President John Campbell. Team members evidently ate at their respective training tables, since none were in attendance; an event spokesman said that providing complimentary tickets to so many players would be prohibitively expensive.

The 11th annual Poinsettia Ball followed tradition by dividing its proceeds between the San Diego chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Holiday Bowl, which in turn divided its share between the two teams. The event has become quite a holiday season tradition, a fact which gala chairman Nikki Clay said was easily explained.

“We’re the one and only black-tie football event,” Clay said. “The Poinsettia Ball is where the guys who are into sports put on their tuxedos.”

The gala was by no means dominated by men in tuxedos, however, since most of the women pulled out their best gowns for the occasion. Two of the most noticed were Marlise Ricardos, who currently wears the Miss California crown and reigned as queen of the Holiday Bowl, and Wendy Willis, who is Miss Wyoming, twirls a baton with the UW band and dates team quarterback Randy Welniak.

Willis said the ball was a touch dressier than functions she attends at home. “The closest we get to black tie in Laramie is snakeskin boots and Wranglers,” she said. “When my boyfriend dresses up, he puts on a sweater.”

The ballroom itself was quite nicely dressed, with hanging snowflakes that hinted at the presence of winter elsewhere, and the traditional banks of poinsettias flanking the bandstand where the Bill Green Orchestra alternated with the Mar Dels. The meal was hearty, perhaps in deference to home-on-the-range sensibilities, and included a surf-turf combination of steak and shrimp that followed an elaborate salad designed, one supposed, to remind the visitors that they were in Surf City.

Holiday Bowl President Leon Parma and his wife, Barbara, headed a guest list that included MS chapter President Gina Zanotti; honorary Holiday Bowl chairman Sid Gilman and his wife, Esther; Ben Clay; UW President Terry Roark; OSU athletic director Myron Roderick; Evan and Sally Jones; Matt and Barbara Shevlin; San Diego State University President Tom Day and his wife, Anne; Jan and Jan Schultz; Bill and Kay Rippee; John and Debbie Daley, and Jim and Jerri Schmidt.