Thursday, December 4, 2008

Opening Night


By John Cassavettes (screenplay). Dir. Ivo Van Hove. Toneelgroep Amsterdam and NTGent at BAM's Harvey Theater. (CLOSED)

Form-crushing Dutch director Ivo Van Hove takes the script of John Cassavettes' 1977 film, about an aging actress resisting the personal challenges a troubling role and haunted by a dead fan, and does multimedia mischief with it. Some critics, like the Times' Ben Brantley, find the metatheatrics compelling and illuminating; others seem distinctly tired by it, though all seem to admire lead actress Elsie de Brauw.

Show Showdown A+
(Patrick Lee) Miraculously even more compelling than the film: the near-constant use of video screens retains the intensely intimate Cassavettes close-up style...The playing space may seem at first like a mad meta playground - we're backstage, on the stage, and in the wings, with live cameras ever hunting and gathering as Neil Young songs are cued in and out as if supplying a film soundtrack - but it's all disciplined, effective and involving rather than distancing and pretentious...One of the best shows of the year.

The New York Times A-
(Ben Brantley) Divisions between players and parts, public and private, life and death, madness and sanity, love and hate and—oh, yes—the person you see in the flesh and the one you see on a screen (make that several screens) at the same time....This isn’t just an instance of a bad-boy director kicking over the traces of tradition because he can. On the contrary, I have never seen Mr. van Hove—who has taken stylized wrecking balls to a host of classic plays—make more purposeful or appropriate use of his anarchic skills...Like a typical Cassavetes film, Mr. van Hove’s “Opening Night” can be irritating, cloying and redundant. But it often is also (like a Cassavetes film) unexpectedly affecting and (far more than your average Cassavetes film) flat-out hilarious.

Theatermania A-
(Andy Propst) The duality of the production--and a theatergoers' need to select what to watch (or read)--beautifully underscores how an individual's internal reality may not match his external one. What theatergoers may see in the video indeed is a representation of the action taking place onstage, but it is only a fraction of the complete picture, relieving frustrations for anyone who's ever watched a movie and been frustrated by the inability to see what is happening just outside of the camera's focus. Here, one can "edit" the action for themselves...Unfortunately...[the] final moments--despite some remarkable work by de Brauw--seem like an overly simplistic conclusion to a marvelously complex work.

Variety B+
(Marilyn Stasio) Dutch director Ivo van Hove brings new meaning to the term "in your face" with his techno-centric treatment of John Cassavetes' 1977 film, "Opening Night," about the psychic meltdown of an aging actress after the accidental death of a young fan. Watching a large screen looming over the play-within-a-film-within-a-play, the audience becomes complicit in this twitch-by-twitch account of a woman's nervous breakdown. Only a giant of a performance from a giant of a performer--just like the one given here by Elsie de Brauw in the Gena Rowlands role--could survive the cold, cruel scrutiny of a curious man with a camera...While some of the male performers are surprisingly wishy-washy, van Hove gives his actresses a wide comfort zone to play in. B
(Stan Richardson) Very well-acted, but rather too pedestrian...By essentially vivisecting the playing space into on stage, backstage, audience seating, and stage door alley—and having live video feed consisting primarily of extreme close-ups—van Hove and his equally talented constant collaborator, the set and lighting designer Jan Versweyveld, create an unrelentingly claustrophobic environment. It's apt for the solipsistic story of great actress, Myrtle Gordon, an aging beauty who willfully resists finding anything in common with her current role as an aging beauty, and thus drinks excessively...Elsie de Brauw's captivating performance of the vain and desperate Myrtle is the suitably enigmatic heart of Opening Night—a life lived with so much fuss and so little examination.

Backstage C+
(Gwen Orel) Van Hove puts the movie's scenes—set in rehearsals, hotel rooms, and elsewhere—on the large BAM Harvey Theater stage, but too often it's unclear what's happening: Is it the play within a play? Are we somewhere else? Is that a producer or a writer? As a result, the story is not clearly told...Moody Neil Young music underscores, packing an emotional punch. Close-ups of live action are shown on a huge screen, on an upstage wall, and on small TV sets downstage, but the effect is less avant-garde and more like Madison Square Garden or Shea Stadium...Though there is some wonderful acting—particularly from de Brauw and Derwig—and striking mise en scène, Opening Night ultimately feels like a translation and not a satisfying theatrical work.

Show Showdown A+ 14; NY Times A- 12; TheaterMania A- 12; Variety B+ 11; B 10; Backstage C+ 8; TOTAL: 67/6=11.16 (B+)

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