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opening night

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Opening Night portrays a theatre company during the hectic run-up to the opening night of a new play entitled The Second Wife. During the day, the actors rehearse some of the more difficult scenes and in the evenings they perform previews. Opening Night begins on the evening of a preview and finishes three days later on opening night. Fragments from The Second Wife alternate with rehearsals, discus-sions, conflicts and personal conversations between the characters. Opening Night offers a unique look behind the scenes of a theatre company. But it is more than that. Myrtle Gordon, the company’s leading actress, has a problem. She is finding it hard to identify with the role she is playing; that of a woman past her prime desperately trying to hang on to her youth. Myrtle tries to incorporate hope into her role. Moreover, she is worried about being slapped on stage by her male co-star Maurice, who also happens to be her ex-husband. Although the slap is obviously make-believe, to Myrtle it only feels too real. When she witnesses the death of a young fan shortly after giving her an autograph at the first preview, Myrtle starts to confuse real life with theatre. She cannot rid herself of the images of the accident and her role becomes associated with the death of Nancy, with whom she identifies. Myrtle regu-larly brings the girl back to life in her imagination: perhaps this way she will master her role in the play. But instead of being a blessing, Nancy gradually becomes a curse. Myrtle finds herself increasingly dependent on the dead girl. Her fellow-actors see her teetering on the brink of insanity. Myrtle can only see one way out: in a surge of her survival instinct she kills the image of her younger self.

John Cassavetes knew the theatre world like the back of his hand. Although artistically destined for independent film, he always referred to the theatre as a Utopia. To him, theatre was the only truly free place where an actor could unreservedly express himself; a place that had not been contaminated by artistic conservatism and the commercial interests of the film studio system.

Cassavetes produced Opening Night in 1977, but his idea for a ‘backstage’ film about an ageing stage actress actually dated from the nineteen-sixties. ‘Getting older’ was an important subject to Cassavetes. Many of the female characters in his films struggle with the realization that their youthful energy and physical beauty are coming to an end. Opening Night is the first film in which Cassavetes connects this issue with his own habitat, the world of film and theatre, actors and actresses. This is not a coincidence. Actors are a perfect example of people who are aware of how other people see them, both on stage and off. An actor does not only play a role on stage; his fate is always determined by others: success or failure, credible or incredible, trendy or old-fashioned. Cassavetes was fascinated by the troubled plight faced by actors trying to distinguish how they see themselves from how others view them. Experience had shown him how difficult it could be to stay in touch with who you really are, disregarding the image other people have of you. As the years went by, the struggle became increasingly existential. Moreover, towards the mid-nineteen-seventies, Cassavetes and his wife and leading lady Geena Rowlands were them-selves approaching fifty and getting old was rapidly becoming a fact. This makes Opening Night one of Cassavetes’ more personal films.



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Wed 25 May 2022 - 20:30
Schouwburg Odeon
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