Opening Night

Director: John Cassavetes
Screenwriters: John Cassavetes

Institute History

  • 1994 Sundance Film Festival


In the days just prior to the opening of a new play called The Second Woman, actress Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) reminisces that when she was seventeen, she felt she could do anything. She proudly wore her emotions so much closer to the surface. NOw weary and alone, she is having a difficult time coping with the demands of her leading role in a play which deals with issues of aging and abandonment. The line between reality and drama becomes increasingly blurred when Myrtle witnesses the accidental death of a longtime fan who is killed outside the theatre just moments after getting her autograph.
Plunged into a deep depression, Myrtle starts to self-destruct, onstage and off. Nipping booze backstage before her entrances and drinking alone in her suite into the early morning hours, she begins having "visits" from the young fan. As her nervousness leads to a near-complete breakdown, Myrtle seeks the help of her ex-lover, an actor (John Cassavetes) who is playing the role of her husband in the play; her director (Ben Gazzara), who is dealing with his own bout of age denial and marital woes; and finally the playwright (Joan Blondell), who dislikes Myrtle intensely but knows the actress is crucial to her own success. Myrtle's destructive behavior reaches its climax when the play moves to New York and she disappears hours before opening night. When she shows up at the theatre after the curtain was to have gone up, no one is surprised that hse is too drunk to walk, but somehow still capable of performing.
An actor's director, Cassavetes elicits superb performances from the entire cast, especially Rowlands, who is beautiful, vulnerable, and honest. Particularly in close-ups which capture the nuances of her extraordinary face, she brilliantly portrays the strength and fragility of Myrtle, a frightened woman forced to look hard at her life, and haunted by the love she has squandered and lost. In addition, Cassavetes gives a sensual performance as the jilted lover who refuses to be used again, now concentrating on how he can build his life and career apart from Myrtle.

— Lois Vossen

Screening Details

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