Opening Night: John Cassavetes Meets Ivo van Hove at BAM
We must never forget, intones an actress in the midst of Opening Night, this is only a play. How wrong she is. Any production by the astonishing Flemish director Ivo van Hove is much more than a playits an event. Opening Nighthis adaptation of the 1977 John Cassavetes film, presented at BAMprovides not only drama but also live video, clever design, and several Neil Young albums.
Elsie de Brauw stars as Myrtle Gordon, a Broadway actress of a certain age, muddling through out-of-town tryouts for a play called The Second Woman. She chafes against the script, which seems to condemn older, childless women to a sort of living death. Her attitude worsens after she witnesses the accidental demise of a young fan, Nancyshe improvises new lines, plays hell with the blocking, and attempts to use Nancys ghost as an understudy. She pleads with her co-star Maurice, Lets take this play. Lets dump it upside down and see if we cant find something human in it.
Cassavetess film, with its tender, intimate cinematography, found much that was human in Myrtles decline; Van Hoves play finds just a little less. Above Jan Versweyvelds seta coalescence of Broadway theater, rehearsal room, and various bedroomshangs a film screen that offers close-ups of the actors faces. This distracts from the stage action, rendering the characters overwhelming, almost hieratic. And since the screen also supplies supertitles for this Dutch-language production, it invites constant attention.
Yet even if Opening Night offers less of the theatrical immediacy and intensity of Van Hoves best works, it continues his fascination with complicated female characters desperate to escape from their assigned roles. De Brauws Myrtle is another Blanche, another Hedda, though Cassavetes and Van Hove dont condemn her to tragedy. Myrtle attempts to sabotage opening night, arriving at the theater so sozzled that her dresser exclaims, Ive never seen anybody so drunk and still be able to walk. Yet, despite her inebriation, she gives a remarkable performance, reconciling herself to the play, to Maurice, to her life. In these final, goofy moments, Van Hove presents much more than a playhe offers us art (and alcohol) as a means of transcendence.
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