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 stage manager announced that a rain date performance would be held to make up for the lost show, but that was apparently in error. Public Theatre spokesperson Carol Fineman (reached Aug. 13) confirmed box office reports that, as per usual Shakespeare-in-the-Park policy, a rained-out show does not get made up. "We won't because we can't," Fineman said. "It was opening night, so we do have some press people to reschedule, but we can't add a performance to the run." Also scuttled was a private opening night party to be held at Belvedere Castle, across the lake from The Delacorte. Though rain drenched the New York area most of the weekend (bringing a merciful end to a scorching, week-long heatwave), the Sunday night Seagull was the only performance affected by the weather. "On Friday it stopped raining around 7 PM, and the show went on. Saturday night was a beautiful night." The Aug. 12 cancellation was the first performance of the run ditched due to weather. Delacorte performances continue to Aug. 26.
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. No further information is available, though spokesperson Fineman noted, "We're still looking into that possibility." The Public is also exploring Broadway options for Suzan-Lori Parks' popular new comedy-drama, Topdog/Underdog, playing an extended run at its Lafayette Street homespace through Sept. 2. Artistic director George C. Wolfe directs the two-man drama, starring Don Cheadle and Jeffrey Wright. A New York Post report (Aug. 10) cited the Royale Theatre as a possibility, but sources close to the Public Theatre are now pointing to the Booth.
— By David Lefkowitz and Kenneth Jones