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A Night Out: Harman Center for the Arts Annual Gala

One famous couple honors another, and dinner runs a little late

Image by Kyle Gustafson.

Check out the scene at the Harman Center for the Arts Gala in this slideshow.

What: Harman Center for the Arts Annual Gala.

Where: Shakespeare Theatre’s Sidney Harman Hall and the National Building Museum.

When: Sunday, October 3, 6 to midnight.

Ticket prices: $750 per person, $10,000 per table.

Why: To benefit the Harman Center for the Arts’ education and outreach programs, including the annual Shakespeare Free for All; to honor actress Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right, American Beauty) with the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre; to honor the HRH Foundation with the Sidney Harman Award for Philanthropy in the Arts.

The agenda: Harman Hall opened for drinks at 6, with early arrivals Annette Bening; her husband, Warren Beatty; Shakespeare Theatre artistic director Michael Kahn; Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann; and patron Lady Sheinwald—the wife of the British ambassador. At 7, guests filed into the theater for a star-studded program featuring mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, ballerina Paloma Herrera, Broadway star Rebecca Luker, the Juilliard Jazz Ensemble, Shakespeare Company members, and more. The emcee was actor René Auberjonois (TV’s M*A*S*H, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Philanthropist Sidney Harman stole a few laughs by neglecting to speak into the microphone during his speech, prompting a stage invasion by his wife, California Democratic congresswoman Jane Harman. “When I hear that footstep,” Sidney Harman told the crowd, “I know that I’m once more to be instructed.”

After the performance and the award ceremony—during which Bening launched into an off-the-cuff performance of Juliet’s speech from the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet—guests were shuttled under umbrellas to dinner and dancing at the National Building Museum, which had been transformed into an Italian wonderland, complete with Venetian masks, string quartet, gondolas, and a bridge.

The scene: The mood was jovial despite the rain, although a few guests grumbled about the length of the artistic program, which delayed dinner until around 10:30. Warren Beatty was there for a good time—on being told that he couldn’t take his glass of red wine into the auditorium, he downed the entire thing. Shakespeare Theatre chairman Michael Klein gave a nod to “the other Michael,” artistic director Michael Kahn, who he noted had been honored in two recent issues of The Washingtonian: in September as one of the area’s style setters and in October as one of 45 people who shaped Washington in the last 45 years. Kahn replied that of the two categories, it was considerably harder to be stylish.

Sidney Harman gave a nod to his newest venture, Newsweek, which he recently purchased. He described the magazine as “a national treasure [which] deserves every effort imaginable.” The Shakespeare Theatre trustee looked sprightly and considerably younger than his 92 years. At the Building Museum, the ornate surroundings and music prompted a few couples to hit the dance floor, but most were happy to eat and discuss Shakespeare Theatre Company’s upcoming season.

Food and drink: Caterer Design Cuisine provided dinner, which started with bruschetta and continued with ricotta gnocchi with sweet fennel sausage, veal scaloppine Milanese, and a limoncello semifreddo timbale. In keeping with the evening’s Italian theme, guests drank Tuscan Chardonnay and Chianti Classico.

Fashion: The evening was black-tie, although a number of male guests bucked the trend and wore suits, went tie-less, or even sported corduroy. Bening was elegant in a perfectly tailored black shift, while Lady Sheinwald wore a floor-length, sparkly black dress. The one-shoulder trend was visible in longer gowns, and a number of women wore trousers. Kahn flaunted his style-setter chops in an impeccable black tuxedo.

Boldface names: 4 out of 5.
Swankiness: 4.5 out of 5.
Food and drink: 4.5 out of 5.
Overall exclusivity: 4 out of 5.

Total: 17 out of 20.

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