Theater lovers gathered at the the National Building Museum Monday to fundraise for the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Photograph by Jeff Martin
What: Harman Center for the Arts Annual Gala, this year with a special performance marking Shakespeare Theatre Company artistic director Michael Kahn’s 25th anniversary with the company.
Where: Sidney Harman Hall and the National Building Museum.
When: Monday, October 17, 6 PM to midnight.
Ticket Prices: $750 per person, $10,000 per table, $125 for after hours tickets (access to the performance, an open bar, dessert, and dancing).
Why: To fundraise for STC’s educational and outreach programs, including the annual Shakespeare Theatre Free For All, and to celebrate Michael Kahn, whose quarter century with the company has seen it thrive (and move to two new central locations in Penn Quarter).
Who: Where to start? At the pre-reception, Washington luminaries were out in force, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Washington Post publisher Don Graham, current Justice Antonin Scalia, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, and British Ambassador Sir Nigel Sheinwald. The performance featured cameos by Patrick Stewart, Chelsea Clinton, Terrence McNally, Kelly McGillis, Harry Hamlin, Bradley Whitford, and a surprise performance by Dianne Reeves. At dinner, we spotted Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, and Aspen Institute president (and Steve Jobs’s biographer) Walter Isaacson, as well as a variety of local theater names: Studio’s David Muse, STC director Ethan McSweeny, and, yes, Michael Kahn himself.
Agenda: After a cocktail reception at Sidney Harman Hall with wine and canapes, the main event kicked off at seven with a two-hour gala performance. Actors from Broadway’s West Side Story performed “Tonight”; Lyubov Petrova (soon to be seen starring in the Washington National Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor) sang a resounding solo from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette; and two dancers from the Joffrey Ballet, Fabrice Calmels and April Daly danced an astounding duet from Othello. Lonette McKee sang “Bill” from Show Boat, Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley performed “I Hate Men” and “Where is the Life that Late I Led?” from Kiss Me Kate, and Denyce Graves sang “L’Amour set un Oiseau Rebelle” from Bizet’s Carmen.
Various speakers during the evening included Patrick Stewart, who recalled meeting Michael Kahn by chance in an Admiral’s Lounge, where Stewart got the opportunity to pitch his dream role: Othello. “When I was 12, the drug called Shakespeare entered my bloodstream, and there was one role I knew I was destined to play,” Stewart said. Unfortunately, London companies from the RSC to the Globe scoffed at the idea of a white man playing the moor, but Kahn was open to the idea, which resulted in Shakespeare’s critically acclaimed 1997 “photo-negative” production of Othello.
Chelsea Clinton also spoke, praising Kahn for giving her the opportunity to experience something new at Shakespeare Theatre. Her first visit to the company, in 1994, provided the chance to “think about what it meant to be noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly,” Clinton said. “And it enabled me to have somewhat of a normal upbringing.”
But the main focus was a presentation by a staggering array of actors who’ve worked with Kahn over the last 25 years: René Auberjonois, Jeffrey Carlson, Stacy Keach, Harry Hamlin, Kelly McGillis, Nancy Robinette, Stewart, Tom Story, Richard Thomas, Ted van Griethuysen, and Bradley Whitford. Each recited a brief speech from roles they’d played at Shakespeare before the assembled crowd welcomed Kahn to the stage. Kahn recalled the time he was welcomed to Washington as “Michael Caine,” which caused great excitement (and some disappointment when the error was revealed). He spoke also about how lucky he felt to have “spent my life working on the most wonderful plays in the English language.”
One person sadly absent this year was Sidney Harman, who died in April. Harman was a fiercely energetic presence at last year’s gala with his wife, Jane Harman, who spoke last night about his love for the Shakespeare Theatre. “He loved the architecture and the versatility of stage and seats,” Harman said. “He loved the magical programming that Michael Kahn has put on for so many years.” But as much as he’s missed, Harman said, “when the lights go down and the curtains go up at Sidney Harman Hall, he’s here.”
Scene: Following the event, guests took a short walk over the National Building Museum, which was decked out in pink and purple lights with a dancefloor, 60 tables set for dinner, and a red carpet. The after hours guests mingled while others ate, which gave the event a lively feel. Performers danced the Charleston, and a band played show tunes before a DJ took over at 11 PM.
Food and drink: Dinner guests sat down to chicken liver pate with concord grape gelée and a duo of endive spears with white bean mousse. The appetizer was a local ricotta and beet ravioli with a leek ragout, followed by lamb shank provençal with fingerling potatoes and fall vegetables. Dessert was a pear and pistachio cheesecake served with fruit ice. The wines were chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from Genesis vineyards in Washington state, and each guest got a nice bundle of chocolate truffles to take home after the event.
Boldface names: 4 out of 5
Swankiness: 5 out of 5 (we’re throwing in bonus points for the outstanding performance section)
Food and drink: 4.5 out of 5
Overall exclusivity: 4.5 out of 5
Total: 18 out of 20