108095 ephrons rosie Rosie ODonnell Frees the Handbag
Nora Ephron, Rosie O’Donnell and Delia Ephron on Thursday (Getty photo)

Broadway and its environs were hot last night, with Tracey Letts‘ “Serious Donuts” opening to raves on one corner with Michael McKean — our old pal from “Laverne and Shirley”– minted as a new star.

Along West 43rd Street at the Westside Theater, off Broadway but right in the middle of the theater district, Nora Ephron is back. She and her equally talented sister Delia Ephron have adapted a book called “Love, Loss and What I Wore” into a fast-paced reading of zingers and poignant observations.

The cast of five women will rotate over the next 12 weeks. Right now it features Rosie O’Donnell, Natasha Lyonne and Tyne Daly; more familiar faces are lined up. It’s’ a little like the theater piece Bob Balaban directed a few years ago about people who were wrongly sent to Death Row. So I’m calling the Ephrons’ work “The Exonerated, With Handbags.”

Candice Bergen and husband Marshall Rose were front and center last night, as was Nora with hubby Nick Pileggi, Delia and a throng of Ephronistas. Candice, looking beautiful as ever, had the distinction of watching her Audrey Hepburn-like 23-year-old daughter Chloe (her father was the great, late director Louis Malle) conduct interviews for the New York Observer. “It’s my second day as an intern,” she chirped. Louis would be proud!

Also on hand: Martin Short and his wife, Nancy, plus HBO documentary czar Sheila Nevins, and the great Mary Wallace, wife of “60 Minutes” legend Mike Wallace.

Daly can do no wrong, and she was spot on as sort of the leader of the five gals who tell stories of how different clothes and accessories punctuated their lives. The way the Ephrons have set it up, the lists of garments and their fabrics read like the recipes from Nora’s classic “Heartburn.” It works.

Lyonne was maybe the biggest surprise since, despite many movie appearances scattered over the past decade — the 30-year-old has had countless well-publicized personal problems. She’s back, she looks great, and has laserlike comic timing. If she’s serious about returning to work, Lyonne should be fine.

Rosie, of course, is another story. Decked out in Eileen Fisher — the designer is also a punchline in the play, much to Rosie’s chagrin — O’Donnell pretty much stole the show. (Not easy to do with Tyne Daly.) She even gets to perform a part of the play that she wrote for Ephron about her own late mother — it’s wonderful. Rosie brought two of her four kids, Parker and Chelsea, ages 14 and 12, and they are the nicest kids around. Rosie’s monologue about handbags brought down the house and shows that, as an actress, she’s matured into quite a comedienne.

When the material’s good — not just the fabric, but the words — it helps.

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