On stage, it was Philadelphia 1931 as Daisy Mayme Plunkett announced: "I work for a living. I'm not one of these women who has to hang onto some man all of her days."

In the audience, it was Kennedy Center 1979 as some 700 women's supporters cheered their approval. At another time, when an uncle told a niece she could wed but not work, they had hissed.

"Well," said Bella Abzug as she waited in line for seafood crepe afterwards, "it was the past. We have to be reminded of the past to see how much fighting we need to do in the future."

Last night, the National Women's Political Caucus raised about $40,000 to help that fight. For $25 or more, supporters got a premiere seat at the Washington opening of "Daisy Mayme" starring Jean Stapleton; for $100 to $500, they got invited to the reception afterwards.

Which is where Abzug, the former congresswoman and deposed chair of the National Advisory Council on Women, was standing not very quietly in line. In fact, the person behind her might have said she was sounding a cry to battle.

"I don't want to hear words anymore," she said, punching the air with her fist."I've heard a lot of words. I want action."

Specifically, the action she wants is a voting bloc of 500 women at the Democratic National Convention. That's a bloc the caucus is trying to organize now, a bloc, they say, that will wield influence over Ted Kennedy or Jimmy Carter.

"We're going to use this period to pressure them," Abzug said. "We're going to make them compete for our votes. We're not going to jump on the bandwagon. We're not going to rely on their promises anymore."

Iris Mitgang, national chair of the caucus, echoed Abzug. "We're older and wiser and more committed to our goals," she said. "A little more sophisticated. None of us are ready to buy promises anymore."

The reception, as often seems the case at women's political gatherings, was somber. Making jokes was almost gauche; rather, the talk was about the struggle, contacts, press conferences, the mood in L.A. Only Stapleton, in whose honor the reception was held, added color.

"You know," she said, "a benefit audience usually sits there resenting all the money they're spent.But not tonight. It's the best audience we've ever had -- and the smartest."

Stapleton, who didn't sound or look like the Edith Bunker she used to play on "All in the Family," wore a shimmery silver blouse, signed autographs and tried to eat blue cheese on crackers between interviews and well-wishers. Through it all, she talked about her role in the women's movement.

"It was so easy for me to embrace the issue," she said, "when I realized this thing called fame can be utilized so constructively."

Earlier at the reception in the Kennedy Center's atrium, Stapleton had run into an old friend, actress Barbara Feldon. Feldon is on the advisory board of the caucus.

The two kissed each other. "And you're happy?" Stapleton asked like a mother.

"Yes," said Feldon, "I finally am."

"You seem to be doing a lot of television," Stapleton said.

"Yes," answered Feldon. "Once I left Hollywood, my career seems to have picked up."

Others at the reception were City Councilwoman Hilda Mason and Effi Barry, Marion Barry's wife who confessed she thought the play "was a little slow in spots. But well done."

Her husband, the mayor, came late and unexpectedly. "I came to see my friend and meet my wife," he explained, adding quickly that "I support the cause."