Peacocks drown out Schubert

Meeting the Elite

Marianne McDonald, Pat Launer, Bridget Brigitte at Rancho Santa Fe
  • Marianne McDonald, Pat Launer, Bridget Brigitte at Rancho Santa Fe

I was watching singer/song-writer Bridget Brigitte at Humphrey's, where she performs along with other bands every other Monday. When I was looking at a table with her CDs, I saw a flyer for a party in Rancho Santa Fe. It was a fundraiser for the Asian American Repertory Theatre and the [email protected] Theatre. Luckily I said out loud, "I'll have to crash this party, especially since it's a $50 entrance fee." Bridget said, "I can get you in free." It turns out Dr. Marianne McDonald is her mom and the party was at her house.

I entered McDonald's name in Google the day of the party. She was a professor at UC Irvine and is now at UCSD. Her poems, plays, and translations have been published widely. Last April, her translation of Oedipus at Colonus ran at the [email protected] Theatre. The only thing I knew about Oedipus were songs by the Doors and the Band that have Oedipal themes.

She is the founder of the McDonald Center at Scripps, which has one of the highest success rates in the nation in treatment of drug and alcohol abuse. I felt embarrassed that, of all the things McDonald is involved in, the last is probably the topic I know the most about.

I threw on a suit and headed to the party. I got there an hour late. I walked past a Jaguar, a Rolls-Royce, and a bunch of BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes. I checked in with a lady at a table by the garage and she said, "You should get in there soon because the McDermott Trio is about to start."

I sat down and a guy next to m A guy next to me asked, "Do you like Schubert?" I said, "What flavor?" He laughed and said, "Franz Schubert They are going to perform the Trio in B-flat Major." My fears were starting to become a reality. I'm a guy who likes rock 'n' roll. My classical music collection consists of two Vivaldi CDs.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the band, though. I'm not sure if it's even correct to call them a band. There was a violin, a cello, and a piano. A few different times we heard loud birds. I found out later they were the peacocks McDonald has on her property. The pianist smiled every time they started squawking.

There was a gentleman who looked like Al Franken turning the pages for her as she played. I wondered if that meant he could read music and if the guy's mom knew that all those years of piano lessons merely got him a gig turning pages for someone else.

As the sun was setting, cellist Maureen McDermott commented that it was getting hard for her to read her music. McDonald immediately got up and disappeared. She came back with another lady and a few flashlights. We ail laughed as they held the flashlights behind the musicians. There was a big yellow circle of light on the music pages, which I think was probably more distracting than the approaching darkness.

I said to a woman later, "Why didn't the guy turning the pages hold the flashlights? All he had to do was turn a page every five minutes. He could have very easily held the flashlights as welt" Someone else replied, "And why didn't the cello and violin players need page turners? They did it themselves and managed."

I couldn't believe the number of books on the shelves. I commented on that to someone, and he said, "Yeah, and she probably wrote half of them." Then I found out that the woman standing next to me had written a few herself. It was Dr. Mary Stroll, who's written books on medieval saints. Her husband Avrum writes on philosophical questions such as, "Did my genes make me do it?"

When I was talking to Bridget, one of McDonald's six children, I mentioned that neighbors sometimes complain when parties have bands that play loud. But I doubted anyone would mind the wonderful music that the McDermott Trio played. She said, "Yeah, and one of the neighbors here is in blink-182. He probably doesn't mind noise. One of their engineers even worked on my CD."

There was a handful of guys running around who had thick Irish accents. I overheard one of them saying that McDonald was one of the first women to have been elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

I happened to be standing next to a few guys talking about playwrights. One asked me my favorite. Okay. That's a topic I can handle. Or so I thought. I didn't want to say David Mamet, who's my favorite. He just seemed too modern and he sometimes uses colorful language. I wanted to name somebody who would impress them. But the more I thought about it, the more I drew a blank. At that moment, I finally realized the pain of those contestants on Jeopardy who hit the buzzer and then don't say anything. After ten seconds, I was sure they'd call me a fraud. It even crossed my mind that, at a previous party, I had a much easier time blurting out my favorite Sesame Street character. At about 15 seconds I knew some kind of answer was required of me. I said, "Arthur Miller." In reality, I only know three of his plays. One of the guys started to talk about a Miller play I didn't know. I nodded my head knowingly and a few minutes later said, "Oh, I see someone over there I want to speak with. Excuse me."

I walked over to this big aquarium where a younger guy and girl were sitting. They had been there for 15 minutes. We exchanged some small talk. I found out he was in a punk band. I thought it would be interesting to see his band go on right after the Schubert.

I was drinking a really sweet German wine. Since I don't know anything about wines, I wasn't about to get into a conversation about them. Especially since John Thornton of the Thornton Winery in Temecula was here.

Whenever I went up to a group of people, the looming topics of conversation scared the hell out of me. One time, somebody said something about Marianne knowing seven languages fluently. Oy vey, I thought.

I approached the next group of people, and they were talking about future productions the Asian American Repertory Theater was working on and how they were looking for a permanent theater space, and sponsors to go with it. Bridget, who I found out was the VP of the theater, said, "You probably won't be able to write that, will you? It sounds too much like a plug, but it would be great if somebody helped us out. Any place that has a space available, even a casino."

The president of the theater group, Louie Nguyen, was there, along with Peter Chu, an AART board member and immigration attorney. When I found out he has represented Olympic athletes, actors, and symphony musicians, I thought about asking him about his work. Then I wondered if the attorney-client privilege would keep him from saying anything interesting.

I had an interesting conversation with Annie Hinton about our favorite actors. She's a professor of theater at USD. She has appeared in a number of productions at the Globe Theaters, but the only thing I remember is that she told me she was in Confessions of a Gay Boy and Nickels and Dimes, which sold out every night it ran. She's also written a number of plays, and Bridget said, "I'm writing the music for her play Brackish Waters."

There were a few people at this party from the Women's Repertory Theatre. They don't put on a lot of productions, but I heard that one they are working on would run at the Lyceum Theatre, While A Christmas Carol runs in the big theater, they would have a production called A Carol: A Jewish Christmas running in the smaller theater. When I asked somebody for more details, they said, "We haven't dercded if we're running that or an all-female

cast of Romeo and Juliet."

Once in a great while. I'll be at a party where a person is impressed that I write for the Reader. But I was talking briefly to Pat Launer. I found out she writes theater columns for On Air Magazine, Decor & Style, In Theater, and about five newspapers including the L.A. Times. She also works for KPBS and has an Emmy. Bridget later mentioned that she was fluent in American Sign Language.

I thought about the person who cut me off on the freeway earlier. I flipped him off. That's the extent of most people's sign language.

I spoke to the editor/publisher of U. Magazine, which I found out was nothing like O, the Oprah Winfrey magazine. U. is distributed at virtually all U.S. universities and helps students with their educational and financing goals.

County Supervisor Pam Slater was there. We had a nice conversation about different countries we've traveled to; since I've only been to two, one being Mexico, she had a lot more interesting stories than me.

An Irish senator named Jimmy Dinehan was here. I heard him talking about his Irish railroad. He was making plans with a few others to go out and have a drink. The party was over, and I was finally eating some food in the kitchen with Bridget. Irene, who owns Cafe Europa and caters events for Marianne, asked me how I liked the stuffed tomato. I told her I loved it, but what other answer would you give to the person who provided it?

Irene is also the one who introduced me to Marianne earlier. When she found out I hadn't met her, she said, "Come on. I'll introduce you." I was scared to death. I felt like a guy showing up on a blind date. But Marianne couldn't have been nicer. She had a warm smile, and I joked about her holding the flashlight. She said, "I thought I was helping, but they said they didn't need us, so we went back to our seats." Luckily she didn't ask me about any of those topics I know nothing about. She was nice enough to invite me to an award ceremony at the U.S. Grant the following week. She was being honored with the Living Legacy Award. I had planned to go but got a migraine (and the Lakers were on TV). I doubt it would've been as cool as when she received an award a few years ago at Ellis Island alongside honorees Hillary Clinton and Quincy Jones.

With guests continuing to come up and talk to her, I was able to get away unscathed.

As I was eating a sandwich, I heard the guys decide they would go to Delicias for drinks. Bridget said, "Oh, that's where Paul McCartney played that private party." I said, "That guy paid a million dollars to have Paul play a birthday party for his wife. He'll never be in the doghouse with her again." Someone smiled and said, "Well, I'm a realtor. Actually, they just got divorced and are selling their house."

I wondered if he hired Ringo to play in the back yard when the divorce was final. It would've been a lot cheaper, and I'm sure Ringo was available.

I felt better as I walked to my car. The party was long over, and I didn't have to pass expensive cars. I didn't make a fool of myself talking to Marianne. I had a full belly.

But as I drove out of Rancho Santa Fe in search of the 15, I couldn't help replaying that playwright discussion in my head. Why did I say Arthur Miller? Couldn't I have thought of a better name?

Somebody cut me off, and at that very moment, it hit me. I yelled, "Pinter! Harold Pinter." That's who I should've said my favorite was.

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