The first person I noticed as I entered O'Neals restaurant, the scene of Monday's opening-night party for Paul Rudnick's play "A New Century," was Linda Lavin. Even amidst the dozens of revelers digging into the buffet, a group that included Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin, there was something about Lavin?s artfully arranged white-blonde hair that commanded attention.

"When we began rehearsals," Rudnick told me a little later, "Linda asked if we wanted her to wear a wig. We said no. Her hair color is perfect for her character: a Jewish matron from Massapequa." Although the playwright, whose comedy is receiving reviews almost as bright as Lavin's coif, could not remember hearing of any matinee ladies asking an usher for the name of the actress's colorist, Rudnick did mention that there have been a few theatergoers who have openly coveted the Lavin character's chic outfits. 

"These ladies can't believe it when they find out the costumes were bought off the rack at Saks. Of course, William [Ivey Long, the show's costume designer] made some adjustments, but basically the ensembles came from the department store. If they're sold out by now, don't blame me." 

Speaking of sold out, the critical and word-of-mouth response to "A New Century" should ensure continued strong sales for the comedy, which is scheduled to run at LCT's Mitzi Newhouse space through June 8. 

At the O'Neals affair, partyers were comparing notes about their preferred one-liners in this story about three main characters--Lavin's Long Island mother; a flamboyant gay man played by Peter Bartlett; and a Midwestern craftswoman played by Jayne Houdyshell. The consensus favorite was Lavin's remark that if "Pottery Barn sold people" they would look like Will and Grace. 

Nathan Lane, however, was overheard raving not about any specific dialogue but about a moment when Lavin's character leads someone around on a leash. "In my play," Lane said, referring to David Mamet's "November," in which the actor currently stars on Broadway, "there are no leashes. I guess we'll have to wait for the sequel." 

Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of