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Heathen Hollywood 

Wednesday, Jul 24 2002
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Photo by Ted Soqui

THE WAILING BEGINS AROUND 9:20 P.M. UP UNTIL THEN THE hundred or so worshippers in the two big white tents have sat stoically listening to the sermon of Dr. Michelle Corral, a no-nonsense Orange County preacher who, dressed entirely in black, resembles a kind of matronly Lydia Lunch and whose metallic voice lashes the assembled to accept the Lord in startlingly erotic terms: "Jesus is a patient lover . . . He is a bridegroom -- will you be ready for Him when He comes to claim you?"

The wireless mic was made for rock stars and evangelists. It lets them prowl about a platform and wade into crowds, yet it also gives preachers a prop to hold on to, like a cane or wand. Corral is a terror with hers, and at 9:20 the assembled "saints" are leaving their seats and coming up to her like moths to a bug light. They are soon dropping into a mosh pit of redemption. "You've had losses!" she yells at one woman. "But right now you're pregnant with a miracle, and I bet you don't even know it!" Corral touches the forehead of the lady who, zapped by divine voltage, falls back into the arms of an usher.

It is Thursday, and outside the conjoined tents nighttime traffic quietly glides past on Hollywood Boulevard near the Pantages Theater as though nothing is happening in the big top. It has been open for business since Tuesday, though at the afternoon sermons there are sometimes only about 50 people scattered in folding chairs. This is Sonset Ministries' second foray into Heathen Hollywood, having also set up a tent on the Sunset Strip last March. Co-sponsoring the revival and beaming it to the world via its Jerusalem-based Voice of Hope radio network is the High Adventure "Voice of Hope" Ministries, whose members sell literature, miniature menorahs and tambourines fashioned in the shape of Stars of David. An Israeli flag put up by High Adventure is planted on the tents' exterior.

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For five days and nights the tents provided an urban oasis free of the intimidations of modern life: There were no metal detectors, no surveillance cameras or armed guards; nor was there pressure to donate money when the "buckets" came round, and no one came over to straighten you out if you didn't stand and hold your palms up to heaven when everyone else did.

An old Pace Arrow RV is parked next to the tents, and inside it is quiet and homey. Air conditioners keep the big vehicle's temperature constant, track lighting provides relief from the glare of the summer sun, and a few angel statuettes accent the spotless interior. This is where invited guest preachers such as T.D. Jakes or Terry MacAlmon chill before and after events. It is also the command post of the five women who organized the revival. Their leader is Teri Copley, a one-time TV actress (We've Got It Made) who gave up the life one day when she heard a voice on a movie set say, "Isn't the morning beautiful?" and felt the Lord tapping on her finger.

Today she is everywhere, a golden-haired vision attired in a dark suit pressing a message that was sounded throughout the week to the interdenominational, racially mixed audiences: Going to church on Sunday is all very good, but what is more important is a relationship with Jesus Christ.

"I believe in getting comfortable before God, in just letting go," she tells one assembly. As she holds the microphone, her demeanor swings between sobs and giggles.

Like Copley, the other women -- Daina House, DeLynn Buonvicino, Angelika Holzapfel and Ramona Jones -- all belong to the Church on the Way, a gospel fellowship on Van Nuys' Sherman Way.

"We were party girls," Buonvicino says in an RV interview. "We'd dance at Roxbury and Bar One, we'd do the coke. I had abortions and they basically killed me, I felt like a used-up heap of nothing." She claims that she and her husband were once in the posse of actor Mickey Rourke and his pals. But these days, she says, they are objects of ridicule to that crowd.

"I had my own TV series, Off the Wall," adds Daina House, who sat across from Buonvicino, resplendent in a cream-colored pantsuit. "I had diamonds and furs but nothing to hold on to. I used drugs and alcohol, I tried New Age and astrology, but nothing worked." House was Playboy's Miss January in 1976, then a tanned 21-year-old with a feathery coif and somewhat dazed look. You would never dream she is pushing 48 today, and like Copley -- herself a youthful 41 -- she has the glowing presence that tailoring and a mane of blond hair can radiate. But also, perhaps, she projects the kind of monumental tranquility that the tent people are seeking. "It's like Ecstasy but without the drug," is how she describes her current state.

Altadena evangelists Steve Tavani and his wife, Linda, of the WOW JAM (Winning Our World Through Jesus and Music) Ministry, take the stage on the revival's last night. He is a former record producer, while she was the second Peaches of Peaches and Herb.

"If you don't know Him," Steve Tavani says, "fall in love with Jesus Christ tonight!" It is that same message of forming a "relationship" with God the bridegroom, one that sounds a little funny to outsiders, but then, not many skeptics enter the tents in the first place.

Putting up the revival's two tents cost $75,000, much of which was donated by the five women. If these organizers were disappointed with a turnout that was often slim, they weren't saying anything. In fact, they vow to return to Hollywood in November.

"It's hard ground to break," admits Daina House.

Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

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