The Crowd: A black-and-white affair

Truman Capote would have smiled.

In the avant-garde tradition of Capote's 1960s New York social A-ticket known as the "Black and White Ball," Orange County trendsetters borrowed on the theme to ring in South Coast Repertory's 2011-12 season.

The SCR event, which unfolded on Saturday evening in the ballroom of The Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, took the Capote memory one step further. As the crowd of some 300 patrons arrived, donating a minimum of $2,500 per couple to the theatrical organization, black-and-white masks were presented. Some were encrusted with glittering stones, others adorned with plumes of ostrich.

The ladies held their disguises on sticks while the gents affixed them to their heads. For centuries, ball designers have been concerned over the ladies' hair.

As the crowd arrived, guests were asked to descend a grand exterior stairway into the Monarch Bay Courtyard, where they were greeted by a reception line of dignitaries.

This was more than a simple courtesy. The warmth of the greeting was a sincere touch, welcoming old friends and new, setting the tone for one of the most glamorous black-tie parties on the coast, and also one of the most intimate and gracious. Most of the arriving crush adhered to the black-and-white dress code. There were a handful of exceptions with more than a splash of red here and there.

The most elegant women in the crowd were the event co-chairs. Longtime ardent SCR supporter Elaine Weinberg, a stunning brunette and accomplished lawyer, joined her exquisite daughter, Nancy Dahan, also an attorney. Both wore simple, classic black evening gowns.

Nancy, showing off her slim silhouette, wowed the crowd in a floor-length black sequin fitted mermaid gown. She could not have eaten one bite.

Which by the way, was a shame. The dinner, supervised by executive chef Andres Jimmez, with a first course of Maine lobster salad followed by an entrée of blackberry braised short ribs over lobster risotto, was so outstanding that guests could barely touch the dessert of chocolate and lemon crème brulée.

When guests at a banquet are not clamoring for dessert, that says it all. So often the entrée is left to be removed by the waiters.

The gorgeous setting adorned with tall vases of expressive white calla lilies and white hydrangeas was a backdrop for people-watching. Among the SCR champions sharing a cordial evening together were Jean and Tim Weiss, Bette and Wylie Aitken, Mary and John Tu, Jane and Jim Driscoll, Julianne and George Argyros, Pam and Jim Muzzy, Linda and Tod White, and Yvonne and Damien Jordan.

Major support for the evening also came from the most generous Mary Beth Adderley, Barbara and Bill Roberts, Socorro and Ernesto Vasquez, John Prichard, and so many more. Most significantly, these included extended members of the Weinberg family William Weinberg and Marci Maietta Weinberg, Nancy and Victor Dahan, Olivia and Nick Dahan, and David and Eva Weinberg, all supporting SCR and the work of their mother Elaine.

SCR leaders in the crowd included Board President Thomas Phelps and Beth Phelps, David Emmes, Martin and Wendy Benson, all sharing time with dedicated SCR friends Sally Anderson and Tom Rogers, John and Elizabeth Stahr, Nola Schneer, Kathryn Glassmyer, Toni Berlinger, Marlene Hammontree, Nadine and Bob Hall, Gayle Widyolar and David Scott, and Leigh Anne and Josh Marchesi, Kate Coogan, Richard Doyle, John-David Keller, Virginia Laddey, Hal Landon Jr. and Jennifer Parsons.

The best part of the evening, beyond the food, the conversation, was the John Tu orchestra known as J.T. and the California Dreamin'. Orange County entrepreneur John Tu and his wife donated the orchestra, and it made the party.

Off came the masks as the crowd danced the night away and welcomed the new season of SCR, which opens this month with Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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