Nocturnal salon designed to indulge the senses
featuring succulent fare, rare libations and spell-binding theatrics staged
in the phase of the full moon. “Mass Ensemble” strums
a 100-foot long stringed instrument erected on the property.
Master of ceremonies, Beau Bridges, presides over the spectacle.
APRIL 3, 2004.
PHOTOS BY ALARIC LAMBERT
Theatricum director Ellen Geer with the evening’s MC, Beau Bridges.
Wildwork’s Mollie Hogan with Boxer, the African serval
Bill Close and Andrea Brook make amazing music with the Earth Harp.
BY LOLA BABALON
This Canyon is notorious for its community spirit and creative agenda, so fundraisers are a regular feature of Topanga’s social life. We have concerts, a casino night, a country fair, the silent auction, and all kinds of parties in support of a variety of causes, critters and those in need. As fundraisers go, the Theatricum Botanicum did indeed put on a “Stellar Benefit” at their Full Moon Soiree this year. It took place at the historic Mermaid tavern, and was one of the most enchanting evenings ever: a feast for all senses. It not only tickled the palate, but also the funny bone. Much of it felt like a large family gathering, a light-hearted celebration of life, art, creativity and literature.
The Theatricum, and Geer family, have been instrumental in the cultural fabric of this Canyon for decades. This yearly event raises the funds for the educational programs and upcoming repertory season.
Walking up to the Mermaid at sunset the air is thick with the lush green scent of spring, and clouds of jasmine flowers. It’s a bit like walking into a dream. There are two stilt-walkers towering above and greeting people arriving in the driveway. Mesmerizing strands of music are emerging from the pool area. Long brass wires are strung diagonally across the yard: The Earth Harp! Two stories below by the pool, Bill Close and Andrea Brook of Mass Ensemble are making Earth Music. The duet moves smoothly, fluidly, like dancers. The amazing sounds filling the air are so hypnotic that people are instantly charmed and a happy anticipation fills the air.
The clear sky becomes star studded, fades to deep blue velvet. Wine and hors d’oeuvres appear: Baked brie en-croute with a creamy portobello mushroom sauce, chunks of squaw bread, various unusual cheeses, and dates filled with goat cheese and walnuts. There is a fruit platter laden with succulent grapes, fresh figs, sweet dates, strawberries, blackberries, apricots and melons. Tiny, flaky bouche cups with wild mushroom shrimp corn chowder, or sun-dried tomato gruyere crackers with duck confit, eggplant caviar and heirloom tomato jam are served along with engaging poetry by Theatricum actors in the guises of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edgar Allan Poe, Alice Walker, Pablo Neruda and more. The mood is festive and conversation becomes animated around the topics of poetry and the two floating beds that are strategically hidden in the tropical garden.
Mollie Hogan from WildWorks is there, with a few volunteers and some of their nocturnal friends: a large Pacific horned owl, a barn owl named Dancer, and an African serval on a leash. Boxer the serval is a slinky, spotted cat, looks like a smallish leopard. Whilst this feline friend of Mollie’s is fairly used to being with people, he reportedly took one look at the tall stilt-walkers, and headed straight for the bushes.
Someone discovers that putting ones ear onto the wooden railing magnifies the Earth Harp music. It’s like hearing a whole new instrument. It’s a weird realization that the sounds we hear traveling through the air are minor echoes compared to the vast symphonies going on inside of the wood.
Soon we all sit down for the most lavish feast imaginable. Jeffrey and Cheryl Kramer from Chanterelle Catering have cooked up a storm. The fabulous feast included a huge slab of organic roast beef, marinated in garlic, rosemary, thyme and oregano, served with creamy horseradish & Wow-Wow sauce. Farsed chicken stuffed with lentils, cherries and ricotta cheese came with an almond milk pomegranate veloute. Then came asparagus egg pie with potato crust, mushrooms, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes and emmentaller, gruyere and parmesan cheeses and various farmer’s market squashes, roasted with garlic puree, olive oil and herbs de Provence.
During dinner the musical program continues with pianist Louis Durra playing in the background. Then Beau Bridges, the master of ceremonies, introduces an acoustic duo with Fred Tackett and Dominic Genova, followed by the most magical of jugglers, local Robin Spehar. His dexterous skill with up to eight glass balls is breathtaking. Whilst we are still breathless, the most comical swordfight erupts over the big pregnant belly of Abby Craden. As it turns out, inside of the belly is Ellen Geer’s soon-to-be-born grandson Liam Flanders. Aaron Angello and Aaron Hendry’s swords clash just inches away from the little one, initiating his pre-natal education in stage combat.
During the course of the evening a silent auction takes place in a side room. There are nearly 60 generous donations from A (A Noise Within) to V (Vibrato Grill). A few items got auctioned of in public, including one of the amazing floating beds.
Dessert includes a flaming cherries Jubilee with vanilla ice cream and lemon marscapone tartlets, as well as mulled wine. During dessert we are swept away by ’50s tunes from the Delicious Barbershop Betties and an a capella quartet with Vinessa Shaw bass, Megan Geer-Alsop alto, Inara George lead and Willow Geer soprano vocals. Jeffrey Kramer, the chef and mastermind behind Chanterelle catering, later admitted, “It was the hardest party, I’ve ever done. It took 12 hours to shop, and another 12 hours to marinate and roast the beef. I made two trips downtown just to find the organic cherries for the Jubilee.”
The evening was extremely well organized, and enchanting in all aspects. Bill Buerge, owner of the Mountain Mermaid, and a member of the Theatricum board of directors, is happy with the results. “This has been our most successful fundraiser ever. Many of the artists who participated in the event live right here in the Cheney neighborhood. It is a real testament to the amount of talent located in this area, and the Geer family is just wonderful.” Cheers!
The details about the yummy feast are purely intentional, to whet your appetite and entice you to participate next year. And if gala dinners are not in your budget either, know that you can support the cause by volunteering your time, donating goods or services working out an exchange, such as Jenise Blanc and and Canyon Shuttle did to help keep the soiree’s benefits local. You will be charmed by these wonderful artists during the upcoming repertory season.