Short Film Review “Opening Night”



First, the Recap:

So, it’s the big night! After all the months of prep work, the hours and hours of rehearsals to ensure everything is flowing smoothly with the material, the hall is booked, and it has come to this. The dream of every playwright, producer, and stage actor to see their hard work come down to its debut performance. And so it is as the curtain parts and a newly minted play begins. It’s a tale about a Mouse (Jon Mishner) who has ended up at the doorstep of a Man (Johnny James Fiore) in search of collecting cheese for the poor. The Man, initially dubious of a talking Mouse, allows him to enter, until the Mouse is revealed to be an imposter posing as a Mouse in order to commit cheese fraud.

Arrested and taken before the Judge (Grant Harling), the Mouse pleads his case with the aid of his Lawyer (Dj Fiore). Trying to show his innocence, the Mouse aka: Mr. Robbins, tries to paint a picture of being a victim rather than perpetrator.  But, the Man will have no part of seeing this criminal go free, and Mr. Robbins is sentenced to community service under the watch of zoo warden Amy (Miriam Katz), with whom he falls for as he carries on his duty of watching over real mice being kept at the facility.  Hatching a plan of escape, all seems well, leaving everyone with the moral “Always be yourself”. The play ends, and the post-performance Q&A begins, with disastrous results.

Next, my Mind:

As anyone who consistently views independent cinema, there’s certainly never going to be a lack of eccentricity or “out there” productions, which honestly is what makes the indie arena so engaging in many respects. Now, sometimes this whimsical peculiarity works, and sometimes it doesn’t. With writer/director/editor Jon Mishner’s 16-minute short film, it remains mainly the former, delivering one decidedly quirky narrative that immerses the viewer in a story about a play being performed followed by the post-production Q&A session with the audience by the cast. The issue–the entire affair is an unmitigated wreck, and ultimately showcases the breakdown between director and cast, much to the shock of the play’s “audience”, which has dwindled over time from hardly anyone to three people, and who don’t get a word in edgewise once the cast and director lay into each other. Hence, this is where the zaniness and humor really enter in, beyond just the silliness of the play itself, filled with the director’s profanity-laden tirades against the people he’d entrusted with his “baby”.

Mishner definitely puts his “I am a total ham” hat on in playing the role of both the Mouse/Mr. Robbins and the play’s director, taking full opportunity to act serious during the constant times where events unfolding are so intentionally and ridiculously goofy or bad that it would be more difficult not to be cracking up than deadpanning it.  But, Mishner successfully navigates this and enacts both characters with equal vigor and overwrought enthusiasm that so appropriately fits the respective demeanors they have. To watch him go from this meek “Mouse” who cares and is concerned about the world the way he is to this over-the-top, self-centered, ill-tempered director is a riot. Supporting turns abound here with equal nuttiness, including Johnny James Fiore’s outraged Man who only seeks justice against the egregious actions he has become a victim of at the, er, paws of a cheese fraud instigator, and Harling as the Judge, the wig-wearing, by-the-book law enforcer who’s actually more clueless than anything, but executes his judgements with almost a little too much enthusiasm.

Also, there is Dj Fiore’s hapless Lawyer, whose true ability and knowhow to defend his client may not actually be up to snuff, and Katz’s Amy, whose loneliness may have found a cure in Mr. Robbins’ wooing of her, even though he is a married man. Additional support is provided by Willem Aloe as the performance venues Usher, Vikram Bhoyrul as a stepped on, absurdly clumsy stagehand/assistant, and multiple others playing the unfortunate audience members treated to the low quality “entertainment” both during and more so after the show. In total, “Opening Night” is an example of the sheer creativity and straightforward jocularity that indie film comedy can provide. It perfectly makes fun of itself in a way that many performers can probably relate to from real experiences with tyrant directors and poor productions. Other than the bursts of harsh language this reviewer didn’t prefer in the film’s second act, I can still firmly say “Bring up the lights, actors take a bow, because we have a winner here”.

As always this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!


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