Inspired by its season opener, "On the Razzle," Arena Stage went on quite a razzle to kick off this Tom Stoppard play of wordplay.

To open the evening, there was a black-tie party in a heated tent. To close the evening, there was a black-tie party in a heated tent. In between was the play.

Waiters served champagne with strawberries and chefs cooked up tempura to skewer on toothpicks at this first Arena gala. Munching on all this were hundreds of guests who showed up for the start of Arena's 32nd season -- including arts patrons like David Lloyd Kreeger, who has a theater at Arena named after him, D.C. City Council members, two ex-secretaries of defense, one current secretary of defense, and British Ambassador Sir Oliver Wright and his wife, who, with Arena's board of trustees, served as co-hosts. Their Rollses sat quietly doubled parked in the chill night air during Party No. 1.

Guests crowded the tent into one giant bumper-car swirl of people careening around, stumbling over soft, lumpy patches of grass. Jostled guests spilled champagne down the backs of other guests' tuxedos as the spilled-upon tried to look unbothered.

"So much for 50 people arriving for cocktails," Katie Hunnicutt, one of the planners of last night's event, murmured happily during Party No. 2. She just figured not that many would show up.

"I knew you'd be here," said Evangeline Bruce with a kiss on the cheek for Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger. Not two feet away was City Councilman H.R. Crawford, sampling food from the buffet.

"All three Washingtons are here," said Democratic nominee for City Council president David A. Clarke, "Local, national, international. They seldom get together."

Former secretary of defense James Schlesinger, now an investment banker in New York, had a front-row seat for the play. He missed Weinberger at the party but had a chance to speak to another former secretary of defense, Elliot Richardson. "It's a reunion," he deadpanned.

A friend spied Schlesinger and approached him: "In the light, you looked just like a statue of yourself," he told Schlesinger.

"I don't know all of you," said Zelda Fichandler, producing director of Arena Stage, during remarks at the second party. "I wish I did. Tom Fichandler, executive director and I have been with it since it was a small struggling theater. Now, it's a big struggling theater."

Mark Hammer, one of the show's lead players, toasted the crowd still using his character's jumbled tounge. "I would like to thank you for getting this season off to a stying . . . Noooo! A flying start." The guests loved it.

Said Sue Samuels, a board member and another planner of last night's events, Arena felt the moment was right for a razzle of sorts. "We said, 'Let's make a statement instead of being low-key and quiet,' " she explained. " 'Hey, guys, welcome to our opening 32nd season.' "