Mike Nichols
Mike Nichols
WATER FOWL

Wow! Were the stars out for the opening of the Mike Nichols-directed production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull on Sunday night! Unfortunately, so were the thundershowers. A good half-hour into the first stage performance Meryl Streep has given in 20 years, a halt was called in the proceedings at the Delacorte in Central Park and the soaked celebs were sent home. It was slim solace that the same rain that fell on moi fell on Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Macaulay Culkin, Meg Ryan, Mike Myers, Marlo Thomas, Phil Donahue, Carly Simon, Clark Gregg, Jennifer Gray, Sam Rockwell, Diane Sawyer, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Nathan Lane, Cynthia Nixon, Liev Schreiber, Cherry Jones, Michael Hall, Kristin Davis, and Mario Cantone.

In the small stage time allotted her, and despite the downpour, Meryl the Magnificent managed some theatrical triple-somersaults, often producing gasps of pleasure and amazement from the audience; Kevin Kline as the writer Trigorin barely got out a peep before the rains came and the game was called. Rumored to be in the works is a Broadway transfer top-lining these two and as much of the star cluster around them as possible. Debra Monk and the newly Oscared Marcia Gay Harden, once rivals for the same Tony (with Monk winning), definitely won't be on board: Monk starts rehearsing Susan Stroman's Broadway-bound Thou Shalt Not and Harden is committed to a new TV series, The Education of Max Bickford, with Richard Dreyfuss. But that still leaves Natalie Portman (Nina), Christopher Walken (Sorin), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Konstantin), John Goodman (Shamrayev), Stephen Spinella (Medvedenko), and Larry Pine (Dorn). Tom Stoppard did a new adaptation of the Chekhov classic for this Joseph Papp Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival production.

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ASSIGNING ASSASSINS AND WOMEN

Allow me to get a slight jump on the press office Boneau/Bryan-Brown, which is eking out the names of the cast of Assassins with individual drum-rolls, and tell you that Denis O'Hare, Neil Patrick Harris, and Mario Cantone will be joining Douglas Sills in the first Broadway edition of Stephen Sondheim's decade-old musical, bowing November 29 at the Music Box.

Also, a P.S. to B/B-B's star-listing of The Women: Julie Halston is a late arrival as Lucy (the Marjorie Main role), who runs the dude ranch where the divorcees congregate and catfight. Just back from Sacramento, where she was Vera Charles to Ruth Williamson's Mame, Halston opted not to go to Philadelphia to be Andrea Marcovicci's Girl Friday in Lady in the Dark. The chance to do The Women on Broadway changed her mind, not to mention That Cast: Kristen Johnston (Sylvia), Rue McClanahan (Countess De Lage), Cynthia Nixon (Mary), Jennifer Tilly (Crystal), Mary Louise Wilson (Mrs. Morehead), Lynne Collins (Miriam), Jennifer Coolidge (Edith), Lisa Emery (Nancy), and Amy Ryan (Peggy). Can ya blame her?

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Donald Sutherlandin Ten Unknowns(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Donald Sutherland
in Ten Unknowns
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
SUTHERLAND FULL-CYCLE?

When Donald Sutherland turned down (or priced himself out of) a chance to reprise his Lincoln Center Theater performance in Jon Robin Baitz's Ten Unknowns on Broadway, his role of the ex-patriot American painter went on an interesting voyage--from Gene Hackman to Albert Finney to Christopher Plummer. Now, it's back in the court of Sutherland, who may just do it after all. The Broadway trek, to be directed again by Dan Sullivan, is looking like it may happen in January.

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THE LADIES (AND GENTLEMEN) WHO LUNCH

Five Tony winners--Patricia Neal, Rita Moreno, Mary Alice, Judith Ivey, and Marian Seldes--plus Robert LuPone, Campbell Scott, Simon Jones, Earle Hyman, Brian Murray, Judith Light, Cynthia Harris, Anne Meara, Kate Burton, and Maria Tucci--are among the stars participating in the lunch-hour reading series "Food for Thought," September 24-December 13 (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, 1-2pm) at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South. Featured are short works of Samuel Beckett, Susan Charlotte, Frank Gilroy, LeRoi Jones, Dorothy Parker, Harold Pinter, August Strindberg, Richard Wesley, and Tennessee Williams. Admission is $25 for each reading, which includes a box lunch. For reservations, call 212-362-2560.

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PIRATES OF PEKING

With the possible exception of the Delacorte (when it doesn't rain), the most refreshing theater in New York these balmy days may be found aboard the good ship Peking, which is currently docked at the South Street Seaport. There, till the end of September--"Live on Deck!"--is an energetic and jokey version of Gilbert & Sullivan's perennial Pirates of Penzance, directed and adapted by Michael Scheman,, who has also slipped in some new and highly contemporary lyrics. Jonathan Brody, late of the Tony-winning Titanic, is The Pirate King. Gordon Stanley was originally set to do the

Martin Van Treuren and castin The Pirates of Penzance(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Martin Van Treuren and cast
in The Pirates of Penzance
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Major General but chose Broadway (Cabaret)--and a Broadway salary--instead. (Can you imagine?). The industrious Martin Van Treuren then stepped into the part--no easy trick, as he was in high heels at the time, doing the role of Ruth in drag. But Van Treuren has lived double lives before; most notably, he spent three years playing two victims of Jekyll & Hyde. His double-duty in Pirates is a bravura stunt that works. P.S.: Jimmy Bennett, who understudies for Ruth and The Major General, says in the show's program that he "received his BFA in musical theater at Florida State University and was last seen on Broadway hailing a cab."

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BEYOND THE FRINGE (AND THE PALE)

In 1989, there was a quirky little British flick called The Tall Guy in which Jeff Goldblum played second banana to Rowan Atkinson, and it was highlighted hilariously by a throwaway scene purporting to be from a musical version of The Elephant Man (called, as I recall, Elephant!). Well, don't look now, but here comes that terrible idea again, and it has found a berth in this year's Fringe Festival (Wednesday at 4pm, Saturday at 8:30pm, and Sunday at 2pm) at the 14th Street Theater. Elephant Man: The Musical is the feverish brainchild of lyricist Jeff Hylton, who worked on the book with Tim Werenko and on the music with Paul Jones. A blurb for the show discreetly notes: "Some small license has been taken in this tuneful re-telling of John Merrick's inspirational and dramatic life." ...In a similar vein, those imps at Tweed recently offered an eccentric edition of Agnes of God with Varla Jean Merman in the title role, Flotilla De Barge as the psychiatrist, and Jackie Hoffman as the nun. (A cell phone went off during the show, triggering a blue-blaze cursing streak from Mother Superior Hoffman.) The evening was billed as The Other Play About the Baby. Amen!