Copyright 2000 / Los Angeles Times  
Los Angeles Times

December 23, 2000, Saturday, Orange County Edition

SECTION: Metro; Part B; Page 13; Calendar Desk

LENGTH: 1137 words

THE SUN THEATRE, 2200 E. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM. (714) 712-2700.


I am drinking wine from a plastic cup and sharing a table with perfect strangers, yet it is Aimee Mann pondering the musical question, "How am I different?"

Don't worry! I feel like yelling out to her as Greg, our harried waiter, takes away our plates while holding a mini flashlight in his mouth. It's not you, Aimee. Really.

All things considered, Greg is doing a great job: taking orders over the music, clearing plates, figuring out checks in the darkness of the theater. Earlier, before the lights had gone down, the young Turtle Rock couple across from us, the Hemingways, kidded Greg while he carefully opened their bottle of wine, wiped cork crumbs off the neck with a napkin and then poured a taste in David Hemingway's little plastic water cup. "'It's got a lovely resinous bouquet," said David. "Seriously, Greg, how about bringing us some real wine glasses?"

"Ah, geeze, I'd like to," Greg said, pouring a little merlot into Elyce Hemingway's cup, "but we can't. Just be thankful we're not serving you dinner on paper plates."

The Sun Theatre, built to resemble a Hollywood sound stage, seems like an odd venue for Miss Mann. Her wistful tunes of hopeless romance and life's inevitable disappointments float over this well-heeled audience dining on chicken with mango salsa like cigarette smoke in the rafters.

But maybe Aimee likes the built-in ironies of the place. Like having performed at the Academy Awards earlier this year and now playing in a venue that started out life as something called "Tinseltown Studios," where guests pretended they were dining at the Oscars or Golden Globes. When that concept didn't work, it morphed into the Sun--dinner theater for baby boomers who'd rather nosh on veggie egg rolls and something called spanakopita (little pita sandwiches stuffed with Spam, perhaps?) while listening to Styx and Peter Frampton, instead of condensed versions of "Oklahoma!" or "West Side Story."

And every once in a while, they lure someone like Mann, a brilliant but little-known songwriter best known for composing the music to the movie, "Magnolia."

"This next song was nominated for an Oscar last year, but I lost out to Phil Collins' song for a cartoon movie about 'Tarzan,' " says the lanky Mann, whose guitar looks almost as big as she does. "Sort of reminds me of the presidential election."

The audience is mostly silent. "That's OK. Just eat and talk amongst yourselves while I play," she adds wryly.

The man behind me, whose pager continues to go off throughout the concert, complains to his date that it's so dark in the theater he can't tell if his sirloin is done enough while Mann closes her eyes and sings about a girl who imagines being saved:

From the ranks of the freaks,

Who suspect they could never love anyone.

There are eight people at our table--four on each side. The couple next to us are on a blind date, which seems a little odd unless they met in an Aimee Mann fan club chat room on the Internet, an unlikely possibility, I think, since they aren't paying much attention to the concert. The couple across from them seem like business associates who have just met that day. Like maybe she's in charge of entertaining the out-of-town sales rep and has taken him here as a last-minute idea.

"Have you heard of Aimee before?" she asks him as they pick at their iceberg lettuce salads.

"Oh, sure," says the balding man, still in his dress shirt and tie. "I mean, not really, no." The man, who looks about 10 or 15 years older than the woman, says he hasn't really gotten around to buying a new stereo system since his divorce, but he plans to do that real soon. "I love all types of music," he says.

"When did you get divorced?" asks the woman.

"In 1987," says the man, offering her a roll. "May 28th."

Aimee sings,

So don't work your stuff

Because I've got troubles enough.

No, no, don't pick on me,

When one act of kindness could be deathly.

The couple on the blind date are in a quagmire over the menu. The young woman, who is as small as a child, asks her date's opinion about the baseball-cut top sirloin. "I have to have my meat really, really well done," she tells him. "Do you think if they cut it in half, it will be cooked enough?"

"I don't know," says the portly man, who wears suspenders and a red bow tie. "I'm vegetarian."

"Oh, well," says the woman, distressed. "I don't have to eat meat. Really."

"No, go ahead," says the man, nervously playing with his bow tie. "It doesn't bother me."

"How about fish?" says the woman. "Can you eat fish?"

"I don't believe in eating the flesh of animals--any animals."

When Greg, the waiter, comes, the woman orders a bourbon and Seven. The man orders a diet Coke. "I don't drink," he says with a smile to his date, "but you go ahead and have a good time." And then to the waiter he says, "Can I get something besides just the vegetables and pilaf?"

"Whatever you want," Greg says.

"Can I get a baked potato?"

"Well, we have roasted new potatoes but not baked potatoes. Sorry."

"Just give me a big plate of pilaf. And can you put the mango salsa on it? And I guess she wants the cow thingy."

Aimee asks somebody in the wings to bring her a cup of tea. "I've got a cold," she says, though you'd never know it listening to her. Her voice is soft but resonant as she introduces a song that, she says, is about the times when things just don't seem to come together and you want to quit.

When everything was over

And we loaded up the van,

I turned and said to Dan:

"Dan, I guess this is our prime,

Like they tell us all the time.

Weren't you expecting some other kind?"

Oh, experience is cheap,

If that's the company you keep,

But I'll never get that disease,

Because I've had it.

I've had it.

When the lights come up, the man at the end of the table in the business shirt and tie is sleeping, head bowed, arms crossed over his chest. The woman with him pours the rest of the wine and stares at him, as if willing him to wake up. The man in the suspenders and bow tie slowly continues to eat his pilaf with a spoon. His blind date has not touched her sirloin but is frantically trying to get the waiter's attention while holding up her empty highball glass and pointing at it.

The Hemingways, who had snuggled in each other's arms throughout the concert, seem unwilling to go home immediately. "That was really great," says Elyce, shaking her head in awe.

"Her songs are like short stories," says David. "But where does she come up with the ideas for all these strange people she sings about?"

I wonder.


David Lansing's column is published on Saturdays in Orange County Calendar. His e-mail address is

GRAPHIC: GRAPHIC-DRAWING: (no caption), PAUL D. RODRIGUEZ / Los Angeles Times