Gilda Radner, late of "Saturday Night Live" but now the star of "Lunch Hour" at the Kennedy Center, took one look at the tables at her opening-night party and offered the following assessment: "Oh, it's kind of exciting. There are rolls on the table."

As Radner strolled in, people seated at their tables in the Atrium of the Kennedy Center broke into applause. Some stood. Others called out compliments as she walked by. All that, and rolls too.

She sat down at her table, mugged shock, held up her cloth napkin with both hands and fanned herself: "I feel like I'm at my wedding."

"Gilda, I have some friends I'd like you to meet," said super-agent Swifty Lazar, the host of Thursday night's buffet dinner party and the agent of Jean Kerr, author of the play. The friends clustered around. Gilda stood for introductions.

"I loved it: I'm Eunice Shriver," said that particular Lazar friend. "We're all going to go to lunch on Tuesdays now" (as was suggested by two characters in the play).

Carl Bernstein, ABC News Washington bureau chief, was next in the cluster.

"Oohh!" said Radner. She leaned over, clutching and kissing his hand. ("We're friends," she explained later.)

Finally a plate of food appeared, brought from the buffet by a Kennedy Center staffer. Radner looked up in apparent shock: "You mean it was a buffet and you went and got this?"

"I'm in awe of Washington," she said. "It's the kingdom we read about -- in Detroit.

"I would like to be allowed to be a tourist. But, you know, I probably won't. I came here when I was 15 -- with my whole class. I climbed the Washington Mounument. And I saw them making money. I remember I saw this man who was working there and he looked at me and shrugged" -- (she shrugged) -- "like 'Hey -- a $10 bill. So what?'"

Same Waterston, Radner's costar, had a similar request. "I want to see the new art galleries."

"You were the calm one tonight," said Radner to Waterston. "I was nervous."

Asked how old she was, Radner replied, "32. No! 34! I can't remember! My agent told me I'm not supposed to tell people."

Practically no one at the party was talking about politics.

"I'm not sure what there is to talk about," commented Art Buchwald.

"Would you dare?" someone answered. "No one knows how it's going to turn out."

But Jean Kerr was still animated. Kerr had never even seen Gilda Radner until Mike Nichols, the director -- who was nowhere to be seen at the Thursday dinner -- suggested her for the play. "I guess Mike Nichols felt his worst fears that I'd come from Mars were confirmed," she said.

"I'm always desperately, frantically nervous," she said of opening night. "I always sit in the back row. If something goes disastrously wrong, I like to know I can leave -- just go out, smoke, think about killing myself."

She seemed fairly certain to stay alive Thursday night, although she was ambivalent about the way the play shaped up after its last-minute cuts. "It's hard to assess," she said.

"I was in the beauty parlor today," Kerr said, "and a woman said to me, 'Dear, do you ever go to the theater? I said, 'Yes, I do sometimes.' She said, 'Well, there's a darling play at the Kennedy Center called "Lunch Hour."'

"It was nice. Sometimes you hear someone leaving your play saying, 'Who told you to come to this ?'"