A Scene-by-Scene Analysis
by Roger Deforest NOTE: This analysis contains SPOILERS. You should only read it after you have watched the film.
PREFACE: Opening Night is one of my favorite Cassavetes films, and really stands out among his other films for, if anything, the depth of the script and its characters. The only other film of his that comes close to such depth is perhaps Love Streams, released 10 years later. Opening Night is also unique among Cassavetes' films because it not so much about relationships, but about one character's internal conflict. Gena Rowlands was nominated for an Academy Award in 1975 for her performance as Mabel in A Woman Under The Influence, and won a Golden Globe that same year. Rightly so, many consider Mabel her best performance ever. However, my personal favorite is that of Myrtle in Opening Night. While Mabel was both quirky, funny, and sad at the same time, she still seemed one-dimensional in nature, and lacked the power to fight off the mental conflicts that devoured her by the end of the film. Myrtle, on the other hand, attacks her personal conflicts from a more stable emotional angle, going so far as to confront her inner demons at all costs, even if it means self-destruction. Myrtle's conflict is one we must all face: aging. But the truth of the matter is that men and women age differently. And that is essentially what this film is about. Men, for the most part, welcome aging, or at least seem indifferent to it. Women, on the other, have a lot more to lose from aging, especially in Western society. Women are told by society that with aging comes the loss of beauty, the loss of happiness, the loss of being attractive. Women confront and deal with these losses in many different ways. Myrtle confronts aging via a stage play written by the slightly older playwright Sarah Goode. The character Myrtle plays mimics the fear she has in her own life, of being tossed aside and unloved. On top of that, Myrtle has never married and never had children, and her relationship with fellow actor Maurice has gone sour. She feels alone in her struggle, and perhaps naturally frightened that she will never find love and happiness at her age, and that the theater will reject her as she gets older. So, she must confront her past and her future all at once, personified by the apparition of a pretty, young girl killed outside the theater. But unlike Mabel, Myrtle possesses the intellectual ammunition to fight her demons, and the emotional stability, albeit on her own terms as an artist, to find hope in the face of hopelessness.
SCENE ONE: Forgoing any type of exterior set-up, Cassavetes simply throws us right into the story as if we've been here the whole time. We stand around backstage of the play "Second Woman" (an apt title for the theme of the movie) as it has its run in New Haven, Connecticut. We see Myrtle (played by Gena Rowlands) backstage getting ready to go onstage and perform opposite Maurice (played by John Cassavetes). Myrtle plays Virginia, while Maurice plays Marty. Myrtle takes a quick swig of alcohol to prime herself for the performance, or maybe to forget about her performance. At this point, she already looks exhausted, and we get the sense she is carrying a great weight, although we don't yet know what. Myrtle takes the stage, and her mood lightens. She is an actress after all, and has the great talent of masking her emotions in front of an audience. And that is something we will see often in this film. The only time Myrtle ever seems honestly happy is when she is around her fans or performing onstage. The background set of the play consists of a modest living room with a small bar and stairs leading to a door. The most striking part about the set is, of course, the gigantic prints of elderly women on the walls. Their presence overpowers the actors, and inspires the dialogue throughout the play. During this scene, Maurice, as Marty, delivers very interesting and telling dialogue about "older people." Marty says, "I love older people. For every wrinkle there's a pain, and for every pain there's a year, and for every year there's a death, there's a kindness." He then points to the photo of a young girl and states, "This girl is not kind". His analysis of the young girl will rear its ugly head later in the film when Myrtle confronts her own youth. Also during this scene, Virginia proclaims she doesn't want to laugh anymore. This is the first of many references to humor, or lack thereof, within the play and Myrtle's own life. Laughter and love seem to go hand-in-hand. One does not exist without the other.
SCENE TWO: In voice-over, Myrtle tells us that at the age of 17 she "could do anything", but at her current age she is "finding it harder and harder to stay in touch." In touch with what, we can only guess. In touch with reality? In touch with her own strengths? Myrtle ends her performance, walks backstage and drinks some more alcohol. At this point, we get the sense she uses alcohol to alleviate her problems, like so many other people. Myrtle leaves the theater to a throng of excited, screaming fans, mostly young girls. One girl named Nancy (played by Laura Johnson), stands out in the crowd in a striking blue outfit with matching blue hat. She physically attaches herself to Myrtle, telling her over and over "I love you. I love you." It's important to note that this is the first time we hear someone tell Myrtle they love her. She will hear this later in the film from others, but it doesn't strike her as deep as when it comes from Nancy. At that moment, the rain comes down hard, falling heavy on our principle actors. Nancy tells Myrtle that she is 17, the same age Myrtle was when she felt she can do anything. Myrtle seems generally empathetic to Nancy and wishes to talk with her more, but her assistants push her into the waiting car, out of the pouring rain. Nancy presses against the car window, putting her hand on it to reach Myrtle in the car. In one brief shot, Myrtle brings her hand up to touch Nancy's, although she can not reach. As the car drives off, with Nancy standing in the center divider of the street, an oncoming vehicle strikes and kills Nancy. Myrtle seems naturally concerned, and wants to go back and help, but she is vetoed, and her car drives off.
SCENE THREE: Myrtle and Maurice drive to Myrtle's hotel room, where she drinks more alcohol. Myrtle wishes for Maurice to stay but he leaves instead. He kisses her and says, "You're not a woman to me anymore. You're a professional." In this scene, we get the sense that Myrtle and Maurice once had a love affair, of which Maurice wishes to sever. He seems so distant, lacking any deep feelings for Myrtle, and shrugs her off without a second thought.
SCENE FOUR: Husband and wife Manny and Dorothy Victor (played by Ben Gazzara and Zohra Lampert) are sitting in their living room drinking. Manny is the director of "Second Woman." He briefly discusses the theater, and at one point says, "There's no humor anymore and all the glamor's dead," two obvious qualities that mirror the play and Myrtle's life. After a short embrace between husband and wife, Myrtle calls to tell Manny that a young girl was killed in front of the theater, almost as if the theater were responsible for the fatal outcome. Both Manny and Dorothy seem unfazed, much like Maurice did at the hotel. Myrtle goes on to tell Manny she is very worried about the slap that is to be delivered by Maurice during the play. Manny raises his voice and tells her succinctly, "It's a tradition. Actresses get slapped. It's mandatory you get hit." His use of the term "slap" in this context means that actresses must make themselves vulnerable in their profession, and be "hit" by the reality of love, aging, mortality, beauty, etc., on a level apart from their stage roles. That one sentence "it's mandatory you get hit" sums up the crux of Myrtle's dilemma, and serves as the catalyst for her fight to avoid being "hit" by reality.
SCENE FIVE: Manny, Maurice, and Myrtle are onstage rehearsing what I refer to as the "slap scene" in the play. After some dialogue sparring, Maurice raises his hand to slap Myrtle, but he fails to even touch her before she falls to the ground screaming "No more! No! No!", almost like a child throwing a tantrum. We sense that Myrtle is deeply disturbed by violence, although it is unclear why. She can't even let go of this fear while inside her character. And one starts to wonder, has Myrtle's offstage reality blended too much with her onstage reality? David, the producer (played by Paul Stewart) seems generally concerned and tells someone to call a doctor. Manny insists on continuing the scene and yells at Myrtle to get up off the floor and continue the scene. The movie cuts back to the faces of Dorothy and the playwright Sarah (played by Joan Blondell) sitting in the audience. They are attentive toward the stage but completely unfazed by Myrtle's actions. The rehearsal starts over from the top and Maurice begins to deliver his lines once again, but this time Myrtle laughs at him. She even laughs when Maurice really hits her and she continues laughing while writhing on the floor. Sarah sarcastically asks if she wants her to write some funny lines into the play. Myrtle composes herself and then a key exchange of dialogueue occurs between Myrtle and Sarah. "She's very alien to me," says Myrtle, talking about Virginia. This is the first inkling that she doesn't at all relate to the character she is playing. She either does not understand Virgina, or perhaps she understands her too much and refuses to accept that Virginia's fears are her very own. So Sarah offers this insight, "This woman you are playing is as helpless as you are. She wants to fall in love but her time has passed. You understand that, don't you?" A cruel thing to say indeed, and only solidifies Myrtle's realization of her own age and loss of time. Sarah continues, "Please tell me what this play doesn't express?" Myrtle thinks for a short moment, and then tells us what she wants in her own life as well as Virginia's: "Hope". The room falls silent and rehearsal is suspended.
SCENE SIX: Myrtle is alone in her dressing room, in a meditative, contemplative mood. She catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror, and stares herself down as if offering a challenge. We cut to a close-up of her eyes in the mirror, but looking closely we see that they are more youthful eyes. We see a close-up of her hand that rises to what we think is the mirror, but is in fact an apparition of Nancy's hand, the young girl killed in Scene Two. They touch hands, something they weren't able to do before Nancy's death, and exchange stares and smiles. A lovely piano piece plays on the soundtrack, an audio cue that will always denote Nancy's presence. It's important to note that Nancy represents not only lost feminine youth, but Myrtle's own past as well. Nancy is kind and graceful in this scene, and at all times reflects Myrtle's memories of her own youth growing up as an actress and lover of art. All of which is solidifed later in the film. A knock at the door disrupts their connection, and Nancy disappears. Myrtle opens the door and is greeted by Sarah. During a short dialogue exchange, Myrtle tells Sarah that they will never be friends. This is a key line on two fronts: Myrtle has a disdain for aging (since Sarah represents an attractive actress/artist who has aged), and Myrtle is angry at Sarah for forcing her to confront her own aging process. Sarah offers the white flag by saying she likes Myrtle's idea of putting hope into the play, perhaps something that all women need when confronted with aging. Sarah then begins to spew generic words of wisdom, almost lecturing, but Myrtle is distracted, and searches her dressing room for Nancy. Like most scenes in the film, it cuts abruptly just as we are about to dig deeper into the action.
SCENE SEVEN: Outside the theater, Myrtle and Manny are getting into the car. Sarah says to David, "She tried to talk to me about age. Now I ask you, really!" But of course, we never heard this exchange about aging. Perhaps this occured after Scene Six abruptly ended, or perhaps this scene was cut out of sequence, since it seems to really belong after the conversation in Scene Thirteen. Cut to Manny, Dorothy, and Myrtle walking back to Manny's hotel room. Instead of going up for a drink, Myrtle grabs the daily newspaper to read about the girl killed last night. In the article, she finds the address of the funeral service.
SCENE EIGHT: Myrtle hunts down the address of the Jewish Wake being held for Nancy. During the service, she is let into the apartment and meets Nancy's mother. Myrtle tells her that Nancy was very beautiful and had "extraordinary eyes.", of which we were shown in close-up in Scene Six. The mother is obviously distraught, and perhaps harbors some hatred for Myrtle since Nancy would still be alive if she didn't go see Myrtle on that fateful night. Perhaps this is what the Rabbi means when he says, "You don't have children. If you had, you wouldn't have come here." By coming to the wake, Myrtle is flaunting her own role in the young girl's death, and opens herself up to be blamed for the accident. The mother, however, is not outwardly angry at Myrtle, although inside she no doubt can't help but run the "only if" scenarios over and over in her head. We learn from this scene that indeed Myrtle does not have any children, something which plagues her onstage character, Virginia.
SCENE NINE: Myrtle is sitting in a small but lively bar, wearing her sunglasses and looking off into the distance. She is watching a group of young African-American men as they laugh, drink, and share a good time. Perhaps Myrtle admires their youthfulness, or perhaps she admires the fact that they can genuinely laugh and enjoy life. We can only guess. Then, the bartender asks if Myrtle could sign some autographs for a man and woman at the end of the bar. Myrtle smiles and agrees to do it. As in Scene Two, we again see how happy she becomes when she receives the attention of her fans. Myrtle lives for the theater, and this is one reason why she fears aging. If she is old, will the theater still accept her?
SCENE TEN: Sitting in her dressing room, Myrtle is in her wardrobe and about to take the stage. Manny is sitting with her and proclaims, "You're not funny anymore", another reference to the lack of humor in this film. But Myrtle shoots back, "I'm not funny because I can't take myself seriously anymore." Why can't she take herself seriously? Perhaps Myrtle sees humor and laughter as something reserved for youth, and with aging comes the loss of laughter. Manny once again expresses his deep admiration and attraction for her, of which Myrtle indifferently shrugs off as if she's heard it a million times. And indeed she will hear it many more times from Manny in the course of the film. Yet, Myrtle takes no action to become intimate with Manny, and does not return the heavy compliments he espouses onto her. Myrtle is then called to the stage.
SCENE ELEVEN: When Myrtle takes the stage, the audience erupts in applause. She is obviously well-loved by the theater now. As Virginia, she is dressed in an all-black dress with a small veil on her head, like something she'd wear to a funeral. This wardrobe certainly seems fitting after the scene of the wake, but also symbolizes Myrtle's own loss of youth. The lead actor, Gus, plays Tony, Virginia's ex-husband. He delivers a violent performance which obviously disturbs Myrtle. As in Scene Five during the "slap scene" we once again see how much violence and screaming upset her. Gus' character, Tony, then flaunts his family in front of Virginia. We get the sense that Tony wanted kids with Virginia when they were married, but she probably had no interest in them. Perhaps this is one thing that lead to the downfall of their marriage, since Tony is so quick to flaunt his kids and his younger, beautiful wife in front of Virginia. And now we get a rare shot in this film that lets us not forgot the power of cinematography. Myrtle goes into the onstage bathroom during Tony's tirade. She hides her face in her hands as the audience sits in the background, dutifully watching the play. This symbolic shot expresses Myrtle's own fears of being cast aside into the gutter by the audience that loved her when she was young. She hides her face to cover up the lost physical beauty. Of course, these fears are not warranted at the moment, and only exist within Myrtle's mind. Although the audience obviously loves her now, she fears that they will love her less and less as she ages. We get the sense that Myrtle's love affair with the audience is more important to her than any love affair with a man. The only man she shows any interest in is Maurice who quite fittingly is a fellow actor, her peer, an artist. Virginia comes out of the bathroom and says to the family, "Theres's such a difference between what you dream about and what's really there." Of course, this could very well have been said by Myrtle. The scene ends and Myrtle goes backstage for a wardrobe change, crying and exhausted. She is apprehensive about continuing with her performance because, by playing Virginia, she continues to confront her own fears of aging. Myrtle goes back onstage with Maurice, as Marty, to perform the "slap scene" from Scene Five. Marty states, "You want to be young again, is that it?" and slaps Virginia hard across the face. Myrtle stays down for an extended period of time, perhaps finding comfort on the floor. Maurice persuades her to get up. When she does get up, she is smiling and says, "You're a wonderful actor, Maurice. We must never forget this is only a play." These are words which she herself should take to heart. Myrtle's role as Virginia has blurred the boundaries between acting and reality. Of course, these lines were not written into the script, and this is the first time we see Myrtle fighting the words of her character.
SCENE TWELVE: Manny, David, Sarah, and Myrtle are sitting in her dressing room after the play. They all try to figure out what is wrong with Myrtle, why she has such trouble with the character. Manny offers this insight, "Don't you say to yourself, Myrtle, maybe Sarah's play has something to say. Maybe I haven't loved anything in my life. Maybe I should have gotten married. Maybe I should have had children." All of these are questions that Myrtle is facing internally as she ages. Is it too late to have children? Is it too late to find love and get married? Has her love affair with the theater gotten in the way of creating a family and finding real love? Manny asks, "What is it you feel about [Virginia]?" Myrtle answers, "Nothing", but she really means nothing positive. Obviously Virginia has affected her in profound ways, and Myrtle feels disdain for Virginia. She also harbors ill-will against Sarah for bringing Virginia into her life.
SCENE THIRTEEN: Sarah and Myrtle are talking privately in Sarah's hotel room. This is a pivotal scene in the film because it reveals so much of how Myrtle feels toward Virginia, her acting career, and the loss of youth. Sarah asks Myrtle repeatedly to reveal her age, but Myrtle never once gives it up. Sarah snidely states, "Well, if you can't say your age, then you can't accept my play." Myrtle leers at her, and fights back, "I accept my age. You've written a play about aging. I'm not your age." This line establishes Sarah as the personification of lost youth and lost beauty. Sarah is the playwright, and she has put her own experience of aging into the character of Virginia. Myrtle clearly does not want to be another "Sarah". But Sarah is not fazed. Once again she queries Myrtle about her age, only to be met with a smirk. Myrtle says, "I'm aware that playing an older woman is part of my problem. I have no illusions about being a teenager." True, she has no desire to be a teenager again, but she does need to reconcile the collision between her past and her future. Teenage Nancy is not so much an illusion to her, but a threat to her future contentment as an actress. Myrtle continues, "I'm not ready to play grandmothers yet. If I'm good at this part, my career is severely limited." This is truly what's eating at Myrtle. If she is well-received playing an older woman, she might be typecast as such for the rest of her career. To Myrtle, acting is her life. What kind of life do old people have? So she has three choices: 1) to continue on with Sarah's script, 2) to edit Sarah's script, or 3) to quit the show. The remainder of the film leads Myrtle to her decision, but as for now, she tells Sarah, "I'm looking for a way to play this part where age doesn't make any difference. Age isn't interesting. Age is depressing. Age is dull." Myrtle does not mean that being, say, 85 is boring, but that the concept and idea of aging is unappealing to her. Age makes no difference to the heart of the play. Who cares if Virginia is 55 or 25? And indeed, in the scenes we've seen from "Second Woman", Virginia can be young and still be an effective character. But, the play is about aging, of which Myrtle has no desire to explore. One wonders, why did she accept this part in the first place if she had problems with the play's theme? Myrtle repeats a similar line from earlier, "When I was 18 I could do anything." She has told us twice now, and we get the feeling she is restricted somehow at her current age. Perhaps she has convinced herself that the open future she once had as a teenager is no longer available to her. Perhaps she feels she is hitting a wall. Myrtle then tells Sarah about Nancy, admitting, "I have this dead girl. She's so open. she's really on top of everything emotionally. She reminds me of‚Ä¶" Myrtle sounds like she is about to say "myself", but refuses to be so candid. Sarah then asks Myrtle if this "dead girl" is currently in the room. Piano music strikes on the soundtrack, cueing Nancy's existence, and Myrtle rises and escapes the threat.
SCENE FOURTEEN: Myrtle leaves Sarah's hotel room and is met by David who is standing on the stairs. They go back to Myrtle's hotel room, and David expresses his "concern", although in what we can only guess. Is he concerned for Myrtle's sanity or for the play? He is the producer, after all, so he has a lot at stake. Just then Manny walks in, prompting David to leave. Myrtle grabs a bottle of alcohol off the bar and runs into the other room, but Manny runs after her and grabs the bottle out of her hand. He scolds her, "You're acting like some grade school theatrical kid, for Christ's sake!" We can't through one scene without a jab at aging. Myrtle uses alcohol to escape her own fear of aging, and is accused of acting "young" like a "kid". Manny and Myrtle have a revealing talk about how neither of them understands the character of Virginia. Up to this point, Manny has strongarmed Myrtle into playing an older woman, but now he claims the part is confusing to him. Myrtle states that Virginia is "nothing", reiterating what she said earlier about age being uninteresting and about how she feels "nothing" for Virginia. Myrtle continues, "If I play her the way everybody wants me to play her, my career is over. I'm sick to death of hearing how old this woman is. Who gives a damn how old this woman is!" Manny agrees with her, and Myrtle goes into the bathroom where she once again sees Nancy. One can't help think of that wonderful bathroom shot from Scene Eleven and how this scene is an extension of that. Nancy tells her, "I was always alone, waiting for time to pass." Myrtle was alone, without a true love in her life, waiting for time to heal her. Nancy talks about all the "boys" she has had and Myrtle interrupts, saying she doesn't want to hear about her sex life. Then, Manny walks into the bathroom, and Myrtle says, "If only I could rid myself of you." But is she talking to Nancy or Manny?
SCENE FIFTEEN: Myrtle arrives at the back of the theatre and pushes her way through another throng of fans. Smiling, she appears to enjoy being close to her fans, she enjoys their attention. Myrtle and Manny make it backstage in one piece, and Manny's wife, Dorothy is waiting. Myrtle exits, and Manny and Dorothy share an intimate smile. Cut to Myrtle's dressing room. She is dressed in the black dress, as her character Virginia, getting ready for the play. Cut to her performance onstage with Maurice. We see Manny watching the play from lobby, acting pensive. He lights up a cigarette and a young page tells him there is no smoking, but he ignores her. Back to the play, Myrtle strays heavily from the script, and is met by a delighted audience. We finally hear, for the first time, laughter coming from the audience, all due to Myrtle's actions. Tony walks in the front door and apologizes to Virginia for his actions in the earlier scene. Without a word, Myrtle leaves the stage through the prop door, leaving Gus to adlib in front of the audience. After some time, Myrtle reappears onstage. When Manny attempts to bring the curtain down on her, she screams at him to put it back up. The audience loves it. Virginia says to Tony, "I've changed, haven't I? I've aged, haven't I?" This seems to fit the script, but at this point we don't know what is by the book and what is from Myrtle's heart. Myrtle turns to the audience, "Time is a killer, isn't it, folks?", meaning we all age until we die, but also that concentrating on age will kill us emotionally. Cut to the lobby. The murmuring audience is leaving the play. One woman tells David that there are a lot of "old age" parts. Other audience members say the play seemed "mixed-up". It's interesting how the audience can not tell the difference between reality and fabricated entertainment, perhaps a social comment on our times.
SCENE SIXTEEN: David walks into Myrtle's dressing room. Maurice, Gus, Sarah, and Manny are already there with her. They all are trying to figure out what is going wrong with Myrtle and why she is having such trouble playing the part. It seems obvious to us, but they are not privy to the same information. Then Sarah asks Myrtle, "Is it the girl that was killed? Have you seen her since she died?" Nobody knows what Sarah is on about, and Myrtle offers no clues. Sarah reveals more, "The name of this play is the "Second Woman'. The girl dies. Myrtle can't cope with it." But which girl is she talking about? Nancy, or Myrtle's (Virginia's) lost youth? Sarah kindly spells out to us the double meaning behind the play's name. Not only is Virginia the "second woman" to Gus's new wife, but also that Nancy is the "second woman" that threatens Myrtle's happiness as an actress. One can even go so far to conclude that Sarah is a similar threat to Myrtle because she represents Myrtle possible future. Myrtle confesses to all, "I made her up. She's my fantasy. I wanted to see how it would feel like to be..." Sarah interrupts, "To be young again." Myrtle continues to persuade them that she can control her own "lunacy". She is an fine actress, after all. The only problem is we don't know when she's acting.
SCENE SEVENTEEN: In an interesting reaction, Sarah takes Myrtle to see her personal Spiritualist. They sit at a table with a few other women, and one man, and begin to hold a sťance in the dining room. Feeling she is in unwelcome territory, Myrtle expresses to the others that Nancy exists only in her mind. She tells them that the play is about the "gradual lessening of my power as a woman as I mature. At some time in life, youth dies, and the "second woman' takes over. I believe that Nancy is the "first woman' in my own life." Myrtle admits she created Nancy because she felt there were scenes in the play where she was having trouble with her own life. After that, the sťance begins, but Myrtle is obviously apprehensive about it. The lights are turned off, and Myrtle immediately turns them back. She once again explains that Nancy "doesn't exist." Seeing as how real Nancy seemed to Myrtle in all the earlier scenes, it's unusal for Myrtle to now act as if Nancy is not real. So, we wonder, is she trying to convince the others at the sťance, or herself? Perhaps she realizes that she has indeed gone over the deep end, and must evict Nancy from her mind. This sťance is a turning point for Myrtle's character growth, because she now has verbally rejected Nancy, and will have to fight to keep Nancy away.
SCENE EIGHTEEN: Sarah and Myrtle drive back to the hotel. Myrtle goes up to her own room, alone. Myrtle walks around the sparsely furnished, albeit spacious, room, looking around for someone, more than likely Nancy. Myrtle asks out loud, "Where are you?" While calmly telling this invisible person that is not their "fault", she goes to pour herself a drink. In mid-sentence she is attacked from behind by Nancy. They fight violently for a short while. Nancy tries to pull Myrtle to the floor, but Myrtle overpowers Nancy and easily throws her to the floor. This is no longer the sweet, serene Nancy from earlier scenes. She is dangerous, angry, and in survival mode. This is the same Nancy that Myrlte just told us "doesn't exist". It's almost laughable how easily Myrtle overpowers Nancy, but now we get a sense of how strong Myrtle can be when under attack from her own self. Myrtle escapes Nancy's clutches, and runs out into the corridor and asks a maid if she can unlock the door to Sarah's room. The maid lets her in, and we see Sarah sleeping on the bed in the dark, awaken by Myrtle's entrance. After the maid leaves, Myrtle bangs her head several times against the door jamb, creating bloody cuts around her eyes, while Sarah watches in horror. When finished Myrtle says, "Don't worry. I'm doing this to myself". Yes, indeed we do know that Myrtle has fabricated Nancy in her own mind, and is obviously having trouble getting rid of her. Nancy is this "first woman" that Myrtle must kill to transition to middle-age. She tortures herself in Sarah's room to show Sarah what her play, her creation, has done to her, and also as a cry for help directed at Sarah. Myrtle then asks Sarah if she can spend the night in her room.
SCENE NINETEEN: In the morning, outside the hotel, Sarah tells Manny that Myrtle is crazy. Myrtle sits languidly in the backseat of her car, with dark sunglasses covering her eyes. Manny shrugs off Sarah's statement, and drives with Myrtle to a diner.
SCENE TWENTY: At the diner. Manny tells Myrtle about his love affair with a 19-year-old girl. Once again, we get a reference to the teen years, not early twenties or even early thirties. Manny talks about how he wanted to be "younger" by getting his nails done, and his face massaged. Even Manny was looking for validation from his younger self. The 19-year-old eventually told Manny that he was too old for her, so he had to go back to Dorothy. Manny tells Myrtle that the play has a lot of Myrtle in it. Confused about this statement, Myrtle says, "You mean I shouldn't fool myself anymore. Keep holding on." He then tells her that she's a woman who amazes him "beyond comprehension", similar to the admiration he poured on her in earlier scenes. Once again, Myrtle shows no interest in his words. She takes off her glasses to reveal the cuts on her face, and Myrtle defiantly reveals, "I'm in trouble. I'm not acting." So it seems Myrtle keeps going backing forth. Is Nancy in her head or not? In other words, can Nancy destroy her or can she destroy Nancy? By placing labels and definitions on concepts, we make them real. By setting them free from the constraints of our labeling, they disappear instantly. That is how reality works. Myrtle, visibly upset, raises her voice, "This age thing just has me coming off the walls!" And once again, the scene cuts abruptly before we are brought further into Myrtle's reality.
SCENE TWENTY-ONE: During the rehearsal of a loud fight scene for the play, a disturbed Myrtle approaches Sarah who is quietly watching the rehearsal, and physically drags her outside. David closely follows. Just like in the hotel room when she asked to stay the night, Myrtle runs to Sarah for help. She points a finger at Sarah, "You got me into this, you're gonna get me out of it!" And they get into Sarah's car.
SCENE TWENTY-TWO: Sarah drives Myrtle to a restaurant to meet Melva Drake, another of her Spiritualist friends. After a short discussion, interrupted by a couple waiters, they decide to leave the restaurant and talk in Melva's hotel room. Cut to Melva's room. Melva tries to get the conversation going by asking, "Now, uh, Nancy is her name?" The piano strikes on the soundtrack, signalling Nancy's entrance. On cue, Nancy walks into the room, locking the door behind her. Her body language is strong and defiant. Those blue eyes we saw in close-up in Scene Six are now red with fire. Nancy is in fear of being killed off by Myrtle, meaning there is a part of Myrtle that doesn't want to lose her youh. But she ultimately realizes her youth must be left behind if she wishes to retain her sanity. So she must stay and fight. Nancy tries to make Myrtle feel guilty for her rejection by saying, "I devoted my life to you, to movies, to music, to the theatre. I'm 17-years-old. I like sex. I like to turn people on. And that's what the theatre is. It's sex." As in Nancy's last visit, she talks about sex. The theater has become Myrtle's replacement for intimate relationships with men. Myrtle attempts to protect herself, "If you hurt me, I won't be able to act." Theater is her life. If she can't act, she is dead. That's what this play is doing to her. It is killing her as an artist. Nancy and Myrtle get into another violent fist fight. The fight is short-lived with Myrtle bloodying Nancy's face and easily throwing her to the ground. We can't help but be reminded of the cuts on Myrtle's face in Scene Eighteen and Myrtle screaming on the floor during the "slap scene" in Scene Five. While Nancy lies helpless on the floor, Myrtle throws what looks like empty bottles of wine at Nancy's head, keeping her down. In a pan shot we see a Ouija Board lying among the ruins. An exhausted Myrtle asks Melva, or perhaps herself, "Is she dead?" Cut to the hotel lobby and we see a smiling, relieved Myrtle leaving the hotel. Her mannerisms and speech seem more free and full of hope. She is suddenly cast into a warm glow that is her future as an actress and a stronger woman.
SCENE TWENTY-THREE: Myrtle goes to Maurice's hotel that night to try and make amends. Now that she has killed off the desires of her youth, she can look forward to the next chapter of her life, with a real love relationship replacing the theater. Maurice acts cautious at first toward Myrtle's approach, but the smile on his face tells us he might just be playing hard to get. She advances, but he pushes her away with words. She leaves rejected, saying, "Love moves at a hell of a rate of speed, doesn't it?" Both love and life.
SCENE TWENTY-FOUR: At the theater, Myrtle calls to say she will be there on time to get dressed on the opening night of the play. Manny is unable to take the call, but the message is revealed to him by a stagehand. The cast seems interested and they ask many questions about the phone call, as if unsure that she will truly show up.
SCENE TWENTY-FIVE: In New York, we view Myrtle standing on the sidewalk surrounded by strangers walking past her. Although she is surrounded by people, none of them appear to recognize her, unlike earlier scenes. She views the theater's marquee from afar, perhaps wondering if she should disappear into the crowd or instead face Virginia on opening night.
SCENE TWENTY-SIX: Opening night in New York. This is the night the entire film has lead to. We see a nicely-dressed audience take their seats. Cut to backstage and Manny, Sarah, and David are waiting anxiously for Myrtle to arrive. They fear she may be late. After a long wait, word comes that Myrtle has arrived, and everyone is relieved. Cut to Manny and Myrtle at the backstage staircase. Myrtle is drunker than we've ever seen her before. She can barely make it up the steps, and she chooses to crawl, while repeating, "I'm late." Myrtle stumbles and crawls through the backstage corridors, making her way to her dressing room, as if experiencing some kind of rebirth. Manny gets violent toward Leo when he tries to help her. Myrtle must do this herself. She killed Nancy herself, now she must face the uncomfortable transition to her new life. Myrtle finally makes it to her dressing room and is helped onto the bed. David and Sarah enter the dressing room. David is outraged that Myrtle would be so drunk on opening night. He threatens to close down the show. Myrtle struggles to get on her make-up, saying, "I'm a foolish woman", perhaps meaning she is a fool for letting the theater serve as a replacement for real love all these years. But the show goes on with Myrtle barely able to stand. We see fragmented pieces of the same scene we saw in Scene Eleven, with Gus delivering his violent diatribe. At one point, Myrtle passes out, whether from alcohol or exhaustion from fighting, and the rest of the cast must ad-lib around her. Myrtle comes to what's left of her senses and walks off the stage on her own, yet she immediately passes out when she reaches backstage. Cut to a different scene of the play featuring Myrtle and Gus only. Time has passed, and by now, Myrtle has sobered up quite a bit. As Virgnia, she ask's Tony, "Do you love me?" yet receives no answer. She could very well be asking the theater or the audience. Her scene with Gus ends, and she is backstage enjoying a cigarette before her scene with Maurice. When she sees him approaching, she mutters under her breath "I'm going to bury that bastard." After Maurice's rejection in Scene Twenty-three, Myrtle now resembles the vengeful Nancy from Scene Twenty-Two, ready to move in for the kill to stay alive. She has just buried Nancy, and is like a train going full-power to its destination, not letting anything get in her way. Myrtle takes the stage with Maurice. This final exchange of dialogue is like a showdown between old West gunfighters. Myrtle tries her darndest to derail and outwit Maurice, but he completely follows her lead. After scolding her for being destructive, Myrtle defiantly tell us, "Well I am not me. I used to be me. I'm not me anymore." A key line that proves Myrtle is passed her struggle with Nancy and with youthful ideals. Whether this line is coming from Virginia or from Myrtle makes no difference now, for reality has blended with theater. Maurice continues, "We are absolutely different people than we were." Myrtle reiterates, "I am not me". Both characters, or actors, reveal their personal feelings on aging, on transitioning through time, on becoming different people. Who can look back 50 years and say they were the same person then? We all change with aging and with life experiences. The audience loves the witty exchange, yet Sarah and David seem restless while watching from the audience. This is our first indication that Myrtle and Maurice are not quite sticking to the script, and could very well be way off the beaten path. I won't go into too much of the dialogue here, for it has to be experienced to get the full feeling of the exchange. It is clear that Myrtle is not herself, at least not the Myrtle we watched head toward near self-destruction during the film. She is indeed a different person, not her old self, but a new, confident self ready to embrace life, love, and laughter. The play ends and the audience abrupts in wild applause. Sarah, David, and Manny seem pleasantly surprised, and perhaps feel a little bad for not trusting Myrtle to steer the part her own way. Cut to the cast party onstage after the audience has left. Spirits are very high. Manny, Sarah, and David are ecstatic. The film ends with a still of Myrtle hugging Dorothy, a character who has been silent for most of the film. In the end, however, it doesn't matter if the play is a success or a failure. All that matters is that Myrtle has conquered a part of herself that was intent on destroying her. She has gone to Hell and back to retain what's rightfully hers: Hope. She truly is the "Second Woman".