R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : Costumes Can't Mask Support for Stop-Gap

Supporters of Stop-Gap, a nonprofit theater company that uses drama as an educational and therapeutic tool, engaged in a different kind of role-playing Friday when they donned costumes for a pre-Halloween masquerade bash.

A tuxedo-clad Alf, assorted vampires and a gorilla were among the 200 party-goers who attended the Stop-Gap benefit at the Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach. The $175-per-person gala netted more than $70,000 for the Santa Ana-based drama group.

Interview With a Vampire

Don Laffoon, Stop-Gap co-founder and executive director, looked like a character from an Anne Rice novel with his black cape, cane and deathly pale complexion. Laffoon said people love a masquerade because they can wear anything.

"The dress code tonight is black-tie optional, cape preferred," Laffoon said. "There's everything from blue jeans and cowboy hats to tuxedos."

Clad in gold flowing robes and a massive turban, Bill Wood, the evening's auctioneer, was the unofficial winner of the best-costume award.

"I'm the amazing Carnac," Wood said. "I'll be able to tell who's bidding even before they raise their hand."

Sophie Hall, event co-chairwoman, wore a frilly black gown that she found at the Goodwill, where she works as director of development and marketing.

"It's a gay '90s dress. I got it for $39," she said proudly.

For some, just donning a tuxedo was costume enough.

"I don't dress this way every day," said Doug Mazza, honorary chairman, wearing a black tuxedo and accompanied by his wife, Lorraine.

Healing Art

Party planners decorated the hotel in Halloween chic. In the ballroom, faux pumpkins wrapped in shiny copper-colored Mylar adorned tables draped in black cloth and sprinkled with glittering copper confetti.

Guests dined on steak and salmon followed by a killer dessert called Death by Chocolate, a medley of rich chocolate confections. Later they watched a skit performed by Stop-Gap actors and a video about the drama company.

"So many people need a Stop-Gap in their lives," Mazza said. "Children in schools who have watched the plays about abuse will come up to their teachers and say, 'That is going on in my house.' Or children in a hospital who are frightened are put at ease. It's a beautiful intervention."

Stop-Gap addresses social issues such as drug abuse and gang violence through its short plays and drama workshops.

"We're a very special theater company," said Victoria Bryan, Stop-Gap co-founder and managing director. "We use theater as a way to help people make good decisions, whether it's battered women making the decision to move ahead or kids making the decision not to get involved in gangs or drugs."

During the evening, Stop-Gap honored three key supporters: Chevron, which received the corporate award; Gina Edwards, who received the Elvi Miller Award, and Stop-Gap actress Tracy Merrifield, winner of the Colleen Lau-Pearson Award.

Others masquerading were: Ann Crane, event co-chairwoman; Christopher Sheldon, board president, and his wife, Debbie; Terry and Sharon Hartshorn; Alan and Terri Hoops; Bill Walcutt; Grace Songolo; Kris Davis; Ralph Rodheim; Charlie and Nora Hester; Betty Belden-Palmer; Fred and Marcia Jager; Andrew and Olivia Johnson; Dan and Willette McQuaid; Peter and JoAnne Fiek; Phil Luecht, and Kent and Carol Wilken.

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