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Elaborate party opens American Stage season

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 26, 2001


Play time arrived for almost 200 people Friday evening. American Stage launched its Mainstage season with Act One, a party actually in three acts. By tradition, American Stage has a small cocktail party in its garden for first-nighters. Act One was an elaboration of that, with the play bracketed by a preshow dinner and postshow cabaret and dessert reception, both in the St. Petersburg Times auditorium a block away, chosen for its proximity and its larger size.

By 6:30 p.m., the auditorium was filled with men in tuxedos and women in evening dresses -- not something you often see at a newspaper office -- who lined up for a buffet catered by Amici that included a chef custom-mixing chartreuse pasta. Toned down with Alfredo sauce and sauteed shrimp, it did not taste as startling as it looked.

This was the first party many of us had attended since the terrorist attacks, and they were much on people's minds (so many had a story or anecdote to relate), but there was also a sense of relief to be able to go on with events that bring good will and well-being -- and, yes, fun -- to life.

As Ed Cassidy, the American Stage board member who masterminded the party, said, "The arts, especially theater, can be a tool for healing."

A portion of the money raised from the silent auction was dedicated to the fund for families of fire and rescue workers and police officers killed.

Board president Marion Ballard and husband Bill Ballard circulated in the crowd, greeting guests, among them Bill and Hazel Hough; Tom James, sporting a cool bolo instead of a black tie, and matching cuff links purchased in Santa Fe on a recent trip with wife Mary James; Dr. Perry and Lisa Everett; Frances Pruitt; Peter and Helen Wallace; Fran Nohren; Tinker McKee; Mary Christian; Allen Lloyd and Pippa Francq; Lloyd and Caroline Horton; Seymour and Susan Gordon; Lew and Helga Andrews; Don and Jane Silverberg; Donna Fleece; Jan Knowlton; Pete and Lisa Wells; Lornie and Rose Mueller; Steve and Mary Ellen Cease; Chuck Williams; David and Guna Carr; Marshall and Diana Craig; Rutland Bussey; Bryan Bartlett; Al and Nancy Karnavicius, and Robert Danielson.

Roy Sebbas and Tom Peterson chatted about the makeover they've done on their old house, including a pool area that resembles a smaller version of Adventure Island. Really. Sean and Beth Manning, who brought friends John and Debbie Hogan, chatted about the upcoming trip to Chicago organized by the Art Center. And Lester Wolff chatted about the Arts Advisory Committee, of which he is a member.

Getting us out onto the sidewalk and down the street for curtain time was a challenge. But we rose to it. And Spunk, by Zora Neale Hurston, did not let us down. Directed by artistic director Ken Mitchell, it's a lovely play. Then back to the Times for dessert, champagne and a cabaret performance by the cast, a gift since they had to be exhausted.

I hope this turns into an annual event. Evan Whittle, who came with wife Diana, remarked, "You remember why people used to dress up for the theater. It was so nice looking around the audience and seeing everyone in tuxes and evening dresses. It's too bad we don't do that more often."

Indeed.

* * *

Guild members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast met for lunch Monday to catch up on plans for the coming year, with Ann Foster presiding over the gathering. Among members present were Vera Brantley, Esther Oster, Edie Pace, L.A. Malin, Toni Fudge, Celma Mastry, Rosemary Johnson, Bernice McCune, Hugh Ann Cason-Kelly, Mary Shuh and Judy Cunniff.

Karol Bullard and Lenne Nicklaus-Ball had their heads together looking as if they they were in the middle of a high-level discussion, but no, said Mrs. Bullard.

"I've been sick for a week and don't have a voice. I haven't been able to talk. Fred (her husband) thinks it's been great."

Ursula Hume led us in an a capella, impromptu sing-along of America the Beautiful (first verse only, thankfully) and then whipped up enthusiasm for the group's Monte Carlo night on Nov. 9, of which she is chairwoman.

Tom Spencer, president-elect of the corporate board, and executive director Carl Lavender were on hand, too, and presented guild founder Peg Nunn with a plaque made from a letter written by the national Boys and Girls Club CEO Roxanne Spillette to Mrs. Nunn, declaring her the "kindest, most thoughtful and elegant lady."

Indeed, again.

* * *

Please note: The Ducks Unlimited dinner scheduled for Thursday at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club has been canceled and rescheduled for February, organizers report. Details will follow.

Looking ahead

Oct. 5

OPENING RECEPTION FOR EAST MEETS WEST: Iron Chef fans will love the format for the party launching the new exhibit at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, which celebrates the sister city relationship with Takamatsu, Japan. A cooking competition inspired by the TV show will pit local chefs against each other. If you are a $1,000 patron, you will also have, among other perquisites, the privilege of being a judge. Otherwise, members are free; nonmembers, $15. 5:30 p.m. 335 Second Ave. NE. 894-1052.

Oct. 11

IT'S FASHIONABLE TO BE AWARE: Midday Business and Professional Women's annual fundraiser for the Reach to Recovery program for breast cancer survivors. Wine, hors d'oeuvres and informal modeling of designer frocks at Johnston of Florida, soon to be renamed Coplon's. 156 Beach Drive NE. 5:30-8 p.m. $40. 821-8211.

PASTA WITH PERSONALITIES: A fundraiser for Mid-Pinellas Homeless Outreach Women and Children's Shelter with local notables entertaining and stirring up pasta. 6:30-9 p.m. VFW Hall, 4145 34th St. N. $20. 521-1877.

Oct. 13

AN EVENING IN PARADISE: A party to benefit the Science Center is a luau at the Redington Beach home of Robert and Diane Klingel. Island casual attire, live and silent auctions. 6:30 p.m. $75. 392-0509.

AN EVENING WITH GROUCHO: Actor Frank Ferrante's one-man show celebrating the life and work of Groucho Marx is a fundraiser for the Palladium Theater. Two performances, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., with general admission tickets from $10 to $15. Patron tickets for the evening performance begin at $100 and include reserved seating and a postperformance dessert reception with "Groucho." 253 Fifth Ave. N. 822-3590.

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