- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2007

This week was busier than usual in social-cultural circles, with a gamut of gatherings that, in one case, even broke new ground.

“We’ve got four justices tonight,” volunteered the obviously pleased Michael Kahn, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, before Tuesday’s opening of “Richard III,” which he directed.”

Actually, three. Four members of the Supreme Court had accepted an invitation to attend, but Antonin Scalia sent regrets at the last minute. The others — Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito — were among a select number of guests trumpeting the first major production of four of the playwright’s works that the company is presenting during the six-month-long, citywide Shakespeare festival.

“Historic” — and very nearly miraculous — was how Mr. Kahn described the festival’s achievement, which has brought together about 61 participating arts organizations under his spirited lead.

The audience included Sen. Susan Collins; Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff; Lady (Catherine) Manning, the British ambassador’s wife; Norwegian Ambassador Knut Vollebaek; and arts patrons Jim Kimsey and Sidney and Rep. Jane Harman. The latter couple’s names will adorn the company’s new home when it opens Oct. 1, with Ann Nitze in charge of the gala.

At the dinner at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, former D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and his wife, Diane, were honored with the gift of two gold crowns worn by the King of France character during the company’s production of “Henry V” more than a decade ago (before Mr. Williams’ tenure) — as well as lifetime subscriptions to the theater. Mr. Williams was hailed for his efforts to increase theater seats in downtown Washington and for the city’s $10 million gift for the Harman building. “Do I have to wear a crown when I come to the theater?” was Mr. William’s riposte.

Georgetown’s N Street was chockablock with traffic around 6 Tuesday night when Washington’s new mayor, Adrian Fenty, dropped by to help Arts in Action raise about $40,000 for local HIV/AIDS groups at the former residence of Averell and Pamela Harriman. (Oh for the days when the city facilitated VIP access by the simple expedient of towing away all the parked cars before party time.)

Mr. Fenty bantered easily with the crowd, gamely warbling “Happy Birthday” to Arts in Action founder Peter Rosenstein before soberly reiterating his dedication to the mission of helping eradicate HIV/AIDS in the District.

“The incidence rate and how it is spreading is a crisis,” the mayor said, promising to work not only for funding and increased liaison with the private sector but to remedy past “mismanagement” in the city’s health department. “Files are sitting on the floor,” he told a reporter earlier. “We don’t even know how many cases there are.”

“Our numbers are comparable to sub-Saharan Africa,” the evening’s host, Dr. James D’Orta, told the crowd later as Michelle Cross Fenty, arts philanthropist Judith Terra and about 100 other guests listened. His only positive note: The disease is “one epidemic we know how to prevent.”

Wednesday’s see-and-be-seen reception was for the unveiling of a portrait of civil rights crusader and man-about-the-world Vernon E. Jordan at the National Portrait Gallery. A crowd of his friends and fans as diverse as the city itself paid $250 each to attend. Hosting a benefit in the newly refurbished building wasn’t as unusual as the fact that it had been Mr. Jordan’s idea to do so, according to Marc Pachter, who plans to retire as director of the National Portrait Gallery on Oct. 1. That gesture is typical of the canny lawyer (now with New York’s Lazard Freres firm) who, in lawyer Riley Temple’s words, “enters a room and there is a frisson.”

Mr. Jordan’s three-quarter-length portrait in oil was done by Bradley Stevens of Gainesville, Va., who called his subject “a great man. It was an honor to paint him.” Changing an older rule to allow portrayals of living persons to line the halls along with former presidents and other august personages gives present-day visitors a better sense of identity with the institution, Mr. Stevens remarked.

Kudos came from every quarter for the man of the hour, “the man behind people,” in the words of Mr. Jordan’s son-in-law Dwight Bush. “He’s critical to everybody’s relations,” quipped Lady Manning, stopping by with her husband, British Ambassador Sir David Manning. “He’s wise counsel, savvy and has great judgment. You can see why President Clinton and many others have relied upon him,” noted former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen.

An equally varied though more formal gathering was taking place at the same hour in the National Gallery of Art for “Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Painting, 1955-1965,” with the artist in attendance. Several hundred art-world luminaries at the exhibit’s black-tie preview dinner were joined by the heads of local theaters and arts institutions at the behest of Target, its sponsor. Mr. Johns, who is renowned for the many variations in his early paintings of red, blue and yellow target symbols, was joined by such contemporaries as Frank Stella and such friends as writer-producer-director Michael Crichton among a group of high-powered collectors and museum officials.

“Works such as these changed the course of art in the post-abstract era,” enthused Earl “Rusty” Powell III, NGA director, during dinner in the East Wing’s Central Court. “Thanks for making art history so interesting in the last half century,” he added before offering a toast to “one of the greatest artists of our time.” Cheering him on were lenders of note such as Whitney Museum of American Art Director Adam Weinberg, various Whitney family members, Eli Broad, Joachim Pissarro and Mitchell P. Rales; relatives of the late Leo Castelli (Mr. Johns’ longtime dealer); Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Frances Frago Townsend; former Harvard University President Neil Rudenstine; and CBS television’s Morley Safer.

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