In the opening moments of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, Masha predicts there will be rain tonight. At the Aug. 12 opening night of The Public’s starry revival of the play in Central Park, her forecast was accurate.
The Public Theater cancelled the outdoor Delacorte Theatre performance at about 9 PM after 30 minutes of interaction between friends, family and lovers — played by Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Marcia Gay Harden, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman and others — on a soggy Russian estate in August. Citing danger to the actors, the Public’s stage management interrupted a scene just pages before the end of the first act of the four-act comedy. The intermission would have come after Act Two. The performance was interrupted earlier, about 10 minutes in, during a downpour. The moment Walken and Hoffman left the stage in the first stoppage, as if by miracle, the rain stopped immediately and the audience called for the actors to return. Stage hands swabbed the stage and the performance began anew, with extra energy from the celebrity-spiked crowd, who had hidden under umbrellas before the show and pulled them out again during the brief interval.
When Streep, as the celebrated actress Arkadina, made her entrance after the performance began again, she held her hands out to the sky as if to see if the rain had stopped. Thunder, lightning and a heavy downpour followed within 15 minutes. After the second stoppage, the hopeful audience waited 10 minutes before the show was completely called off at about 9 PM.
Soggy, disappointed cast members departed to a dinner at a nearby restaurant. A rain date performance to make up for the lost show will be announced in newspaper ads, the stage manager announced. Also scuttled was a private opening night party to be held at Belvedere Castle, across the lake from The Delacorte.
Seen at the opening night were Diane Sawyer (director Mike Nichols’ wife), Eric Bogosian, Carrie Fisher, Cynthia Nixon, Lea DeLaria, Tony Walton, Michael C. Hall, Penny Fuller and more. The house was packed. Perhaps the most disappointed were not the invited guests, the VIP’s and the friends of the Public, but the masses who waited outdoors in heat and humidity for hours in the hope of getting into the hot-ticket (and free) show, which marked film star Streep’s return to the stage after a 20-year absence. Playbill On-Line reported Aug. 9 that The Public is exploring a Broadway run of the production for fall. Delacorte performances continue to Aug. 26. The Aug. 12 cancellation was the first performance of the run ditched due to weather.
— By Kenneth Jones