Wednesday, January 12, 2011

ACT honors Armistead Maupin's 'Tales of the City'

Catherine Bigelow
San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Super supporters of American Conservatory Theater were center stage, literally, Saturday at the Geary Theater during the Producers' Circle Dinner.

The dinner - co-chaired by Frannie Fleishhacker and Deedee McMurty, and starring author Armistead Maupin, devilish and dapper in matching kilts with his husband, Christopher Turner - was held on the theater's floorboards.

"ACT is so magical. A few years ago we decided this dinner must reflect that," McMurty said. "So we set the tables onstage, where all the action happens."

Among the 110 guests: ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff; Executive Director Ellen Richard; board Chairwoman Nancy Livingston; board President Rusty Rueff; board member Priscilla Geeslin; Chairman Emeritus Alan Stein; MFA student Richardson Jones; and Cal Shakes Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, who directs ACT's West Coast premiere of "Clybourne Park" on Jan 20.

The evening also celebrated ACT's groundbreaking musical production of Maupin's beloved "Tales of the City," starring Betty Buckley as Mrs. Madrigal, which will ignite the theater's 2011 opening-night gala on June 1.

Lucky guests not only enjoyed a memorable, '70s-inspired McCall Associates meal (Crab Louis, lamb chop Grand Veneur, Blums'-inspired Coffee Cake Crunch), they also received signed copies of Maupin's latest "Tales" novel, "Mary Ann in Autumn."

"Reading 'Tales' is what made me want to move to San Francisco," Perloff said. "These stories are our stories, nurtured in this city's neighborhoods and spanning generations."

The collaboration between Maupin and ACT began in the mid-'90s when Olympia Dukakis (who played Mrs. Madrigal in the televised "Tales" miniseries), introduced Perloff and the author.

"Carey's had her eye on this prize for a long time," Maupin joked.

But he had his own ACT tale, too. Maupin recalled that as a lowly mail boy in one of the city's old ad agencies along Pacific Avenue, he learned of a job opening in the theater's promotion department.

"Of course, back then," Maupin said with a laugh, "I couldn't even get my foot in the door."

Perloff paid tribute to the theater's deep-pocketed donors who contributed to last year's stellar season, including a $31 million capital endowment (chaired by Livingston) and the dazzling premiere of the "Tosca Project" (en route to Canada in the fall).

Up next? The director is at work creating a Mid-Market campus for the theater.

Post-dinner, ACT artists Mary Birdsong and Manoel Felciano sang stellar "Tales" sneak previews as Maupin and Perloff engaged in a dynamic chat on the author's colorful career.

In continuing the "Tales" characters, Maupin said he felt blessed to tell the world a story for the past 34 years. But, he noted, some recent reports on "Mary Ann" shorthand the saga as a treatise on the taboo topic of gay aging.

"I look at aging as a supreme privilege," he said. "Because there are so many people no longer here who I wish I could have brought along on this journey."

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