Review: Opening Night (Belvoir St Theatre)

Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Feb 26 – Mar 27, 2022
Playwright: John Cassavetes, adapted by Carissa Licciardello
Director: Carissa Licciardello
Cast: Caitlin Burley, Jing-Xuan Chan, Anthony Harkin, Luke Mullins, Toni Scanlan, Leeanna Walsman
Images by Brett Boardman

Theatre review
Myrtle is having serious problems with the role she had signed on for; the show is about to open, but she is still unable to make sense of the play she had agreed to star in. In the meantime, the director and playwright are becoming increasingly abusive, heaping blame on her for not making it work, often saying that she has lost her spark as an actor, and that she has grown too old to be any good. There is nothing subtle about John Cassavetes’ Opening Night, and in this adaptation by Carissa Licciardello, the story does not get any less heavy-handed, in making its point about our reprehensible attitudes regarding women getting older.

Licciardello’s adaptation and direction are certainly enthusiastic in trying to assert the point of the exercise, but the message quickly becomes too simple and obvious. Plenty of effort is put into creating an air of mystery surrounding Myrtle’s behaviour, which provides an updated theatricality for the audience, although it becomes clear, that the plainness of its motivations struggles to sustain our interest for the production’s 100 minute duration.

David Fleischer’s set design too is uncomplicated, in its depiction of a masculine and superficially stylish world. Costumes by Mel Page are flattering, and appropriately understated. Nick Schlieper’s lights and Max Lyandvert’s sound are relied upon for dramatic flourishes, to further engage our senses, although those moments of abstract elevation can seem slightly gimmicky, when we fail to decipher enough behind, that could feel substantial.

Leading lady Leeanna Walsman conveys the confusion and dreariness of Myrtle’s arduous battles, but it is a conservative performance that offers little to relish. Myrtle’s director is played by Luke Mullins who thankfully injects dynamism into the show, for his part as an uncomplicated villain. Anthony Harkin and Toni Scanlon are Myrtle’s co-star and playwright respectively, both bringing a degree of nuance to their supporting roles. Caitlin Burley and Jing-Xuan Chan are solid presences in all of their brief appearances, both demonstrating noteworthy commitment.

At the end of Opening Night, we find a satisfying conclusion. In real life, Myrtle’s story could end up either way, good or bad, for real life is anything but predictable, but in a play that wants so much to talk about doing what is right in our storytelling and in our art, it is hard to imagine any other way for things to end. It is of course true that misogyny exists, and it is right that we should see it represented. It is also important that we reiterate again and again, our agency and power as women, to make exhaustive revisions to centuries of indoctrination about us being weak and domitable. We love watching Myrtle triumph, but even if she falters, we know that she is strong enough to get up and try again.