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Reviewed by:
  • Opening Night
  • Dan Venning
Opening Night. By John Cassavetes. Directed by Ivo van Hove. Presented by Toneelgroep Amsterdam and NTGent, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Theater, Brooklyn. 6 December 2008.

During a pre-show conversation with playwright Charles Mee, Belgian-born director Ivo van Hove revealed to Brooklyn Academy of Music audience members that he hates being called a deconstructionist. Van Hove views himself as old-fashioned, directing a text based on what he imagines the author had intended, trying to bring the play to fruition in the most intense, affecting way possible. His “old-fashioned” style, however, appears to resemble the technologically laden productions of Richard Foreman or the Wooster Group more than conventional interpretations of a written text, yet van Hove uses technology in a crucially different—and positivist—way: to intensify the liveness and presence of his actors. In Opening Night, van Hove’s adaptation with his company, Toneelgroep Amsterdam, of the 1977 film of the same name by John Cassavetes, van Hove accomplishes this goal by replicating Cassavetes’s filmic aesthetic through his use of live-feed video during the production, while also diverging radically from the source material to enhance the theatricality of the play by avoiding naturalism and restructuring roles in order to highlight his central actors and their physical presence.


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The company of Opening Night. (Photo: Richard Termine.)

In the film (which van Hove claims never to have seen), Cassavetes performs opposite his wife Gena Rowlands and frequent collaborator Ben Gazzara. The film revolves around Myrtle, an aging star actress rehearsing for a new play, The Second Woman. When Nancy, a teenage fan of Myrtle, is killed by a car after the play’s New Haven tryout, Myrtle becomes unhinged and begins imagining the girl. Myrtle also attempts to seduce her co-star and former lover Maurice (Cassavetes) and married director Manny (Gazzara), and generally terrifies the playwright, Sarah, and producer, David. On the opening night of The Second Woman, Myrtle gets so drunk she can barely stand, arriving late at the theatre. Still, with the support of the cast and crew, she manages to deliver a stellar performance; the film ends as the group celebrates backstage.

The Toneelgroep production used the language of Cassavetes’s script (in a Dutch translation by Gerardjan Rijnders and Sam Bogaerts) and in several ways conformed to Cassavetes’s aesthetic of intense focus on individual human beings. In the film, the director often employs detailed close-ups, displaying the very texture of the skin of his actors. Van Hove used live-feed cameras in the BAM production [End Page 465] to similar effect. In the final scene of van Hove’s production, while Myrtle (Elsie de Brauw) and Maurice (Jacob Derwig) perform The Second Wife—as it was titled in the stage version—a giant close-up of the actors was projected onto the upstage wall. Such close-ups of the actors, especially de Brauw, were a constant presence throughout the show. Considering this resonance between Cassavetes’s films and van Hove’s theatrical style—van Hove had used cameras to similar effect in an English-language production of The Misanthrope at New York Theatre Workshop in 2007—it comes as little surprise that the director was attracted to Cassavetes’s film. In fact, van Hove had directed Cassavetes’s Faces in 1997, and only chose to direct Opening Night after the Cassavetes estate refused permission to produce Husbands (according to van Hove during the preshow discussion, the estate refused “for reasons that concern ourselves”).


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Myrtle (Elsie de Brauw) and David (Johan van Assche) in Opening Night. Nancy (Hadewych Minis) in foreground, with camera operator. (Photo: Richard Termine.)

Despite these similarities, however, the spirit and aesthetic of van Hove’s staging was, for the most part, a radical departure from that of the film: the director chose to foreground the theatricality of the play and, in so doing, disregarded many of the naturalistic details of the film, which today seems like a dated indie piece. In contrast, van Hove staged the production on a stark, metallic set designed by Jan Versweyveld...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 465-467
Launched on MUSE
2009-11-15
Open Access
No
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