Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

Around Town
with Donna Shor

A Moscow-on-the-Potomac evening at P Street's Studio Theater, which with its 1997 upgrade began the revitalization of the 14th Street strip (scene of the 1968 riots) and nearby Logan Circle. The recently completed $10 million addition of two adjacent buildings to form a handsome four-theater complex and supporters were ready to party. And they did.

This “Russian Winter Gala” celebrated Studio Theater's Russian Winter Season of sixteen plays spanning a century of Russian theatre. Chaired by Liz Cullen, the evening offered a performance by chanteuse Karen Akers that brought the audience to its feet in homage, and a dinner that had everybody happy as well.

Design Cuisine's hors d'oeuvres included pirozskis, foie gras and sips of borscht soup, followed by sturgeon encrusted with fresh horseradish, a welcome “intermezzo” of frozen vodka with caviar, excellent roasted duck breast with buckwheat kasha and finally armagnac-soaked brioche and carmelized apples topped with calvados ice cream. My kind of theater fare. Akers, sleek and chic as usual, opened with nostalgic “Moscow Nights” (“in tribute to my Russian grandmother”) and other traditional numbers including the exuberant song of the Russian gypsies that we know as “Those Were the Days,” and then of course, her signature rendition of Edith Piaf hits.

The Russell Metheny-designed complex was funded by donors large and small, spearheaded by Jaylee and Gilbert Mead's initial $1 million, to which they added another $1 million in a 2:1 challenge grant, followed by Arlene and Bob Kogod's $750,000 challenge grant, and corporate and individual donors.

Seen: Founding artistic director Joy Zinoman; board of trustees chair Susan Butler; William McSweeny; former Senator John Danforth; Victor Shargai; John Aniello; Marina Poutiatine (in traditional headdress and costume, as befits a descendant of old Russian nobility); Vladimir and Suzanne Tolstoy (she in Russian court dress); Don Bliss (who recently accepted the presidency of Arts For the Aging); philanthropist Richard Nespola; James F Collins, former ambassador to Russia; Ann and George Allen; NBC meteorologist Bob Ryan, and his Russian-born wife Olga; Nixon Center chief Dimitri Simes; Megan and Don Beyer; Sarah and William Walton; Sarah Epstein and Don Collins; Georgiy Y.Borisenko, counselor of the Russian embassy; and Jill and Fred Schwartz.


THEY HAVE A HEART: The highly effective Women's Board of the American Heart Association, Greater Washington Region, brought out 1,100 women to the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel for the 57th annual luncheon “An Affair of the Heart.”

Luncheon Chairman Mrs. Kenneth Cole introduced the honored guests, including Harriett Kassman of the eponymous Chevy Chase store, who presented her Spring 2005 collection from American and European designers to great applause… The guest speaker was the First Lady of Maryland, Kendall Ehrlich, who emphasized the need to fight against heart attack and strokes, the greatest killer of women in the U.S. today.

Karen Dixon Fuller presided over the drawing of “Valentines” prizes that included airline tickets, jewelry and other desirables. Specially honored guests included Maggie Wimsatt and Jacqueline Collamore.

A few spotted: Ann Wells of Dallas; Myra Haley (widow of Alex Haley, the author of “Roots”); and Marilyn Montgomery.


AMBASSADORIALLY SPEAKING: Indefatigable Anna Maria Via did it again when she and husband Giorgio hosted one of their evenings where a flock of ambassadors gather to relax, enjoy intimate, off-the-record conversations and a good home-cooked dinner.

Seen: Moroccan Ambassador Aziz Mekouar and his wife Maria Felice; Italian Ambassador Sergio Vento and his wife Magda; Lebanese Ambassador Farid Abboud; Swedish Ambassador Jan Eliasson (who will soon be leaving us for the U.N.); Irish Ambassador Noel Fahey; Michael and Linda Sonnenreich, (he is president of the Washington National Opera); the Maltese Ambassador John Lowell and his wife Marie-Therese; and the Vias' daughter, Alexandra, and her husband Michael Daigneault.

VEGAS STATE OF MIND: Tables bore the names Bellagio, The Mirage, Borgata, New York-New York, and more as Café Milano President Franco Nuschese and Debbie and J. Terrence Lanni hosted a luncheon at Café Milano to honor the inauguration of President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The tables were named after casinos and hotels operated by the MGM Mirage, of which Lanni is CEO and chairman of the board.

Among the 100 guests were philanthropist Catherine Reynolds; Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia; Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and his wife, Rima; U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Stuart Bernstein and his wife, Wilma; State Department Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Patricia De Stacy Harrison; HUD Deputy Secretary Alphonso Jackson; HUD's community planning and development assistant secretary Roy A. Bernardi; director of U.S. Office of personnel management Kay Coles James and Charles James; Mr. and Mrs. Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr.; Juleanna Glover Weiss and her husband Jeffrey Weiss; BET founder Bob Johnson; Lloyd and Ann Hand; Rep. James Gibbons and his wife, Dawn; Colombian Ambassador Luis Alberto Moreno; Lucky Roosevelt; Jack and Mary Margaret Valenti; Joe DeFrancis; Roland and Diane Flamini; Mr. and Mrs. William F. Moorhead; Frank Luntz; and Reagan Library executive Gina Brown.

DEMOCRACY: A rather jaundiced (but immensely interesting) view of the topic resulted when noted author and playwright Romulus Linney combined two of Henry Adams' books to produce with composer Scott Wheeler, the dramatic opera “Democracy,” which was given its world premiere recently by the Washington National Opera.

The opera examined two major questions philosophers ponder—firstly, both the belief and the doubt in the existence of a traditional god, and secondly the inherent pitfalls in a democracy when the supposed greatest good for the greatest number entails corruption to attain that end. Despite the weightiness of the basic themes, the work was really great fun, and the dramatic double split-staging of the denouement theatrically thrilling.

The voices were marvelous, and the performance of Robert Baker (veteran of 250 roles with the Opera) as the scheming Baron Jacoby won special plaudits.

Afterward, at the donors dinner, charismatic Placido Domingo's remarks crediting those who contributed to the performances as well as the funding, were—as usual —both amusing and heartfelt in their sincerity, especially encouragement to the young singers.

GLAMOUR GALORE AT THE OAS: Ivonne A-Baki, the striking former ambassador from Ecuador, was welcomed back here for a night from her country, where she is now Minister of Trade (and where fans say she will probably run again for President). Ivonne, a diplomat with sixteen years in government, is also an artist and educator who has lectured at Harvard.

Handsome philanthropist and businessman Fadi Nahas flew in from Istanbul with his wife for the colorful gala of the Inter-American Economic Council at the Organization of American States building. Nahas was honored with the Council's Excellence in Leadership Award for his role in promoting public/private sector cooperation for economic growth and development in the Western Hemisphere.


Lucila Schmitz, the sister-in-law of Florida Governor Jeb Bush, arrived from Florida for the occasion, as did gala co-chair Monica Heftler. They were joined by celebrants from New York, Monaco and numerous European and Latin lands for an evening that included a smashing fashion show by Brazilian designer Salvatore Laureano, who created Ivonne's slinky gown. Laureano, who designed for Donatella Versace before striking out on his own, designed the showstopping, cut to the waist green gown that got Jenifer Lopez so much attention at the Oscar Awards early in her career.

The committee included Patricia Bennett Sagon, Susan Hurley Bennett, Harriet Fulbright and Ivonne's daughter, Tatiana, who has just published a book of her art works. In the middle of the evening, two waiters suddenly burst upon the scene and started singing operatic arias with truly magnificent voices. They were joined by the evening's “chef,” whose impressive culinary background was written up in the program, and whose voice, to everyone's surprise, was equal to the waiters.

It turned out to be a spoof by the trio of singer-actors calling themselves “The Three waiters”, all planned by the ubiquitous Barry Featherman, who organized the evening for the Council.

Personal Note: Newspapers from Portland to Palm Beach carried long obituaries marking the death at age 95 of one of the last of Washington's grandes dames, Garnett Stackelberg, who often wrote for this magazine.

Hers was a colorful life: as a young woman she left Oregon on a trip to see China, and stayed in Shanghai for ten years. Later she endured house arrest when the Japanese occupied it, and lost 40 pounds from malnutrition until repatriated on the Gripsholm by way of Mozambique, traveling through seas afloat with mines. She settled here when she married the Estonian Baron Constantine Stackelberg, who before the Revolution was a page in the court of the last Czar, where his father held the role of Master of Ceremonies.

An industrious journalist, she was also known internationally as a great beauty. She interviewed world figures as she traveled, wrote for many newspapers and magazines, and for the last several years wrote a Washington column for the Palm Beach Daily News. Since the days of Marjorie Merriweather Post who first began flying ambassadors to Palm Beach for the annual Red Cross Ball, Garnett had helped organizing that trek (later she took them down with Donald Trump on his private jet.)


We met years ago in Paris, where I was publishing a small Paris weekly. Countessa Roberto Morelos, (the former Olympic two-time gold medalist Brenda Helser) who wrote the gossip column for me said “There's an amazing journalist coming from Washington who through her husband, a cousin of Lord Mountbatten, is related to half the crowned heads of Europe. And she has been everywhere five times.”

It took me much less than the 30 years of our close friendship to know that it was all true. Garnett never flaunted the title she gained from her marriage (dating back to the 12th century, as I saw on a trip to Tallin.) She was a favorite of a parade of ambassadors through Washington, but she was always as gracious to taxi drivers as she was to diplomats. Blessed with a delightful sense of humor, she was known for her many kindnesses, and for taking others under her wing, including her four “adopted daughters” Tandy Dickerson, Janet Donovan, Lynda Webster and Aniko Gaal Schott, for all of whom her loss is inconsolable, as it is to her son “Sandy” (Charles Alexander von Stackelberg) and his family.

On her 90th birthday, for a commemorative booklet Eschi Warrick put together, I wrote a few lines that summed up Garnett as I knew and loved her.

More Precious Than Rubies Beautiful of face and spirit, Ever helpful, light of heart, Garnett, you're a gem incarnate. Friendship's your gift, You mastered the art.

Do you have an item “Around Town” should know about? Send it to me at donnashor@aol.com

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