All Elizabeth Taylor Warner had to do last night was walk into the Atrium of the Kennedy Center. The mob converged.

She swept in, wearing black chiffon with red high heels, to the table where the rest of the cast of "The Little Foxes" was already seated just a half-hour after their first sold-out preview performance at the Kennedy Center. Photographers, reporters, well-wishers and autograph-seekers closed in on the table. Her husband, Sen. John Waner (R-Va.), barely squeezed in at his place at the table.

"Is this a press conference?" asked actress Maureen Stapleton, elegant in black, as photographers leaned over her head trying to snap Taylor's picture.

"I don't think so," said Taylor, leaning across the table so that Stapleton could hear her.

"You won't be unhappy if I go home?" Stapleton asked calmly.

Taylor shook her head, big violet eyes bright. "No," she said.

"I should have been an usher," quipped Peter Marzio, director of the Corcoran Gallery, as he slid through the crowd.The performance last night was a benefit for the Corcoran School of Art.

Finally a waiter bearing a tray of full champagne glasses arrived at the table. "I thought you'd never get here! said Stapleton. "Just grab one," said the sweating waiter.

"Well, this is a little strange," said Joe Ponazecki, who played Oscar Hubbard in the play, good-naturedly. "I guess it's meant well. She looks so gorgeous tonight."

"Well, this is her night," said Warner of the attention his wife had garnered. "I'm two steps behind."

For the occasion, Taylor had broken out the jewels as she rarely does for social appearances in Washington. On one finger, an enormous emerald-cut diamond ring. On an arm, a goldcuff bangle with diamonds. Dangling from her ears, strands of diamonds with big, fat pearls at the end. It came off chic, however.

The Warners left after a few minutes. Elizabeth Taylor shrugged when asked if the play went well. "I think so," she said. "I hope so."

"I have to tell you the honest truth," said Sen. Warner. "I just got here for a little bit of the end. We have hearings in the morning."

The verdict on the play was mixed. "Everyone's comparing it to when Tallulah Bankhead did it," said one viewer. "That's what's killing Elizabeth Taylor."

During the intermission between the first and second acts, producer Zev Bufman said, "Well, it's a pretty tense company tonight -- especially Elizabeth. She's more nervous about tonight's opening than about the Broadway opening. She had an off first act -- well, I'm picky -- but she'll explode in the second act. You'll see."

Taylor's son, 22-year-old Paul Michael Todd, gave it a good review, of course. "It was the first time I'd seen the show," said Todd, who stood in the Atrium like everyone else waiting for a glimpse of his mother. "I was very impressed. I talked to her earlier. She's always nervous before a show, but then again who isn't?"

The cast seemed fairly pleased with how it went. "Well, you know that first time is always murder," said Stapleton.

After the Warners left, the cast was still up for a party. So Dennis Christopher, who plays Leo Hubbard, went up to one of the buffet tables and picked up a huge platter of sandwiches. "Is this pigging out?" he asked a friend.

"Oh, do it!" someone urged. He carted the platter off to the cast table. Upon his arrival, they applauded.