A Night Out: Camp Wannabeapolitiki

The 15th annual Arena Stage benefit saw numerous local notables take the stage for a performance that wouldn't exactly win a Tony.

By: Garrett M. Graff

NPR's Nina Totenberg and pundit Charlie Cook hammed it up.

What: The 15th Annual Stage Benefit

When: Monday, April 23, 2007, 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Where: The Mandarin Oriental on the Southwest Waterfront

Who: Good-natured local notables willing to embarrass themselves for a good cause, including Sheila Johnson, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Eleanor Holmes Norton, Joe Lieberman, Mark Plotkin, Bob Schieffer, Andrea Roane, Jack Evans, Tommy Wells, and David Broder.

Food: An ambitious dinner of duck with bok choi, followed by a gooey and difficult-to-eat "s'more" dessert.

Drink: Gallo Sonoma Reserve wine.

Scene: The benefit's centerpiece was the one-act play "Camp Wannabeapolitiki," where a half-dozen congressmen, one senator, local media celebrities, and local politicians teamed up to raise money for the Arena Stage's community engagement programs. The skit, which tested the embarrassment quotient of the audience, featured the script-reading celebs acting out a play about saving a summer camp.

The evening's best fashion statement was made by Judge William T. Newman, the chief judge for Arlington circuit court and husband of billionaire BET founder Sheila Johnson, who onstage wore his yellow Camp Wannabeapolitiki t-shirt over his two-tone french cuff dress shirt.

A very vocal Mark Plotkin kept chattering and ad libbing away, heckling in good fun, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. When Norton was presented with an award early in the evening, he yelled from his table, "She should have a vote." Then, on stage, he declared "Throw them in the pool—especially Eleanor Holmes Norton." Standing nearby, she shot back, "That wasn't in the script!" Plotkin replied, "I know," and the show moved on.

Lieberman made several comments about his come-from-behind victory in last year's senate race, including one declaration: "Take it from me: It ain't over till it's over!"

Congressman Paul Hodes, a freshman Democrat from New Hampshire, would have won the night's most passionate actor award because, although his acting talent left something to be desired, he threw his heart into the performance—singing, dancing, and aping for the crowd. Although it's an open question whether his Granite State constituents would have been "proud," he certainly had put in effort learning the script.

Top Five Most Embarassing Moments of the Evening:

1) Jesse Jackson Jr. performing tae kwon do in pleated khakis
2) Joe Lieberman parading around stage wearing a leather jacket with his t-shirt tucked into his stone-washed jeans.
3) Mark Plotkin declaring, "I'm not sure I'm ready for Harriet Miers in the wet t-shirt contest."
4) Nina Totenberg interrupting, to pundit Charlie Cook, when she lost her place in the script, "Where the hell are we, Charlie?"
5) Jack Evans' fake audition for the camp's version of "American Idol."

Ratings:
Bold Face Names: 3 (out of 5)
Swankiness: 3 (out of 5)
Food/Drink: 3 (out of 5)
Exclusivity: 3 (out of 5)

Total Score: 12 (out of 20)

More photos, including Lieberman as "the Fonz," and the s'more dessert, below.  

The Mandarin Oriental's ballroom was remade as a stage.
Congressman Paul Hodes (center) was the night's "best" actor.
Senator Joe Lieberman (center) appeared onstage to be mimicing the style of the Fonz.
The "s'mores" dessert, with its stringy marshmallow center, left many a diner stymied.