ON THE TOWN:Valentine's Day Massacre benefits arts

While it is the sweet scent of chocolate, roses and love that is wafting through the air as we celebrate Valentine's Day, this past Sunday it was the dark stench of murder and mayhem that hovered over Burbank as Shakespeare at Play presented its St. Valentine's Day Massacre Murder Mystery dinner dance at The Castaway.

The evening, staged as a fundraiser to benefit local arts and education programs, commenced with a cocktail party. Among those who were spotted sipping their libations while perusing the silent auction and interrogating one another in search of identity clues were John and Gloria Aranita, local dentist Bruce Lilly and his wife, Leslie, Hector Reyes and his wife, Nidia, Manny and Rosalva Perez, and the festively red-threaded trio of Max Andrews, Gloria Mikeler and Elizabeth Lambert.

Along with participating in the pre-dinner festivities, Shakespeare at Play board member Gilbert Mares spoke passionately about the mission of the organization.

"We are able to use the arts to reach out to many young people who have never seen a dramatic performance," Mares said. "Our goal, over this year, is to reach out and work even more closely with local governments and schools to offer a positive learning experience for the youth of our communities who otherwise would never have the opportunity to be involved with the arts."

An organization of professional and award-winning actors, directors, writers, producers and technicians, Shakespeare at Play was founded in 1999 by Debbie Gates. Today the company boasts participation by accredited teachers, published writers and artisans and craftsmen who have worked in regional theaters throughout the United States and Canada as well as at prestigious venues in China, London and New York.

Many of those who are involved with Shakespeare at Play have headed up their own theater companies while others hold senior executive positions with major studios and corporations.

"With Shakespeare At Play, they have come together to co-mingle their talents to support local charities and schools," said the company's spokeswoman, Nora Feldman.

As cocktails transitioned to dinner, the event's host, Al Taylor, warned the assemblage that each and every one of the evening's attendees was a suspect and that they should look around their table and trust no one. Among those passing suspicious glances at one another were Burbank Library Director Sharon Cohen, her predecessor Sandra Christopher, Louise Paziak, Judy Santorum and Burbank Leader features editor Joyce Rudolph.

With dinner served, salad forks had barely hit mouths when shots were fired, blood was spilled, a body was carted out of the ballroom, and "Detective" Tom Palifero began interrogating everyone in attendance, from Alyssa Boyle and Stephie Pease, who were outstandingly suspicious in their festive headwear, to the innocence-pleading pastor of Burbank's Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Paul Clairville, who was on hand with his wife, Carol.

Among other "suspects" enjoying the evening were Scott Viers, Larry and Karen Thompson, Jennifer De Costa, Gwen Hiller, Greg and Mellisa Baldwin, David Burgess, Ann Lau, Amy Wicks, Jeremy Morzek, Jan McElwee, Derek and Margo Medina and Jane Legate. Suspicious supporters also included Ann Gates, Robert Kyle of Burbank's Colony Theatre, Shancy Black, Danny Garcia and Gary Judy.

With the evening's crime finally solved and the good people of Burbank once again safe, the event was capped off with the musical stylings of Bluzboy Johnny and the Sweet Soul Rhythm Band under the direction of Johnny Lopez, who has played with the Righteous Brothers and Leon Redbone. Debbie Gates, who finally had an opportunity to grab a bite to eat as the evening came to a conclusion, lauded those who made the event a success.

"The people who were here this evening believe in what we are doing and have been so much help to us," she said.

She also spoke of the organization's upcoming plans.

"Last summer we staged a Shakespeare festival in Burbank's Lincoln Park," Gates said. "It was so well received that the Burbank Library has again requested performances for the summer of 2007."

This past fall also saw the company present workshops and productions in partnership with the Colony Theatre for the Los Angeles Unified School District and Burbank schools. Shakespeare At Play receives no compensation and is funded exclusively by grants from individuals, corporations and foundations. The entire proceeds from Sunday's event will provide support for local arts and education programs.

For more information, call (818) 566-1925.

  • DAVID LAURELL can be reached at dlaurellaol.comor (818) 563-1007.
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